Fifty-three-year-old Kenji Yamase doesn't fit the traditional image of a hikikomori, but then perceptions of Japan's social recluses are changing.

"People think of hikikomori as being lazy young people with personality problems who stay in their rooms all the time playing video games," says Yamase, who lives with his 87-year-old mother and has been a recluse on and off for the past 30 years.

"But the reality is that most hikikomori are people who can't get back into society after straying off the path at some point," he says. "They have been forced into withdrawal. It isn't that they're shutting themselves away — it's more like they're being forced to shut themselves away."