Kazushi Suganuma from Nagoya is helping young people through his own experience as a “hikikomori,” a term referring to some young people’s withdrawal from society.

Suganuma, 35, and his brother, Isao, 33, have established a support association that operates a coffee shop to help young people adapt to social life through work experience.

Suganuma’s parents worked as public servants, and he grew up in a supporting environment. But he retreated from society after he failed the entrance examination for a high school he wanted to attend at age 15.

“I felt as if my presence had been rejected,” Suganuma recalled.

During his period as a recluse, he woke up around noon, watched television and played TV games to kill time. He rarely talked to his parents.

He usually went to bed after 2 a.m.

He said he despised himself so much he was afraid of looking out the window or answering the phone. “I wanted to erase my life,” he said.

After about three years, he began to seek ways of returning to society and asked a medical doctor for advice, saying, “I want to do something but I’m afraid to.”

Based on the doctor’s recommendation, he joined a group called Free Space, which brings together young people with similar experiences.

When Suganuma was 21, his brother took him on a three-week trip to the Shimanto River, known as the nation’s “last clear stream,” in Kochi Prefecture.

Through various social encounters during that trip, Suganuma became more self-confident and began working as a live-in temporary worker at a construction site.

After work, other workers took him to drinking spots, showing him that he did not need to be self-conscious when meeting new people but merely enjoy the occasion.

After helping out the activities of Free Space, at age 29 Suganuma was employed by a company preparing meals for nursing homes for the elderly.

He currently works in a ramen shop while supporting young people in need of help along with his brother and other co-founders of the Nagoya-based association.

The contact list on Suganuma’s mobile phone has some 400 numbers of young people struggling to reintegrate into society or who are not in education, employment or training — known as NEETs— as well as of their family members.

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