Although the term "hikikomori," which describes people who shun social contact and seek extreme degrees of isolation, has been in common use for several decades, it has taken on a more sinister cast recently as the media has come to view it as a social problem. In the wake of two incidents that have been linked to hikikomori — the stabbings of children and adults at a school bus stop in Kawasaki that resulted in two deaths, and the murder in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, of a middle aged man by his father — the word has suddenly become synonymous with "potential criminal."

According to a June 6 Tokyo Shimbun article, the government has said the public should not connect the term to these two crimes, but the Justice Ministry does not keep statistics related to hikikomori. In order to examine whether a relationship existed, the newspaper checked articles from Kyodo News and other outlets from 1999 to 2019 and found 43 cases where persons identified as social recluses committed violent crimes, an average of two a year. Nonetheless, some are saying the perception of a causal relationship that is now being spread through media outlets could drive those labeled as "social recluses" deeper into isolation.  

The two incidents are being blamed on hikikomori because the label is applied so broadly, and news organizations adore labels because they make their job easier. According to U.S.-based journalist Makiko Iizuka writing for Yahoo News, new labels are always being introduced in Japan and they invariably create negative stereotypes: “parasite singles,” “freeters” (young part-timers who are not students), “hinkon joshi” (destitute girls) and so on. News outlets cling to these terms "with a sense of titillation," she writes, making them "trendy" and establishing them as behavioral predictors that exacerbate prejudices. Such labels tend to be suspect in the U.S., where diversity has more of a purchase. In Japan, however, the public is receptive to them, and they are sometimes used to describe people who may not display many of the attributes affiliated with a particular label, if only for the sake of convenience.