Middle-aged people who live as recluses are in dire need of better public counseling services, a new survey has found, highlighting the need for measures to address the previously underreported demographic.

Those living as hikikomori — a Japanese word literally meaning "pulling inward, being confined" — used to be considered almost exclusively adolescent boys and girls who refuse to go to school or young men and women who shut themselves inside.

According to a government survey conducted last September, around 540,000 people in Japan were believed to be hikikomori — holed up in their homes for at least the previous half year, at most going outside only briefly such as to buy something at a nearby convenience store.