Staying creative in extreme isolation: Lessons from “hikikomori”

The Japanese phrase hikikomori interprets to “pulling inward.” The time period was coined in 1998 by Japanese psychiatrist Tamaki Saitō to explain a burgeoning social phenomenon amongst younger individuals who, feeling the extreme pressures to succeed in their college, work, and social lives and fearing failure, determined to withdraw from society. On the time, it was estimated that round one million individuals have been selecting to not go away their properties or work together with others for at the very least six months, some for years. It’s now estimated that round 1.2% of Japan’s population are hikikomori.

When this pattern was recognized in the mid-Nineties, it was used to explain younger, male recluses. Nonetheless, analysis has proven that there’s an growing variety of middle-aged hikikomori. As well as, many feminine hikikomori should not acknowledged as a result of girls are anticipated to undertake home roles, and their withdrawal from society can go unnoticed.

Japanese manga researchers Ulrich Heinze and Penelope Thomas explain that, in latest years, there was a refined change in how individuals perceive the phenomena of hikikomori. This shift is manifested by means of elevated consciousness of the complexity of the hikikomori expertise throughout the mainstream media and acknowledgment of social pressures that may result in social withdrawal. They recommend that the refusal to adapt to social “norms” (akin to profession development, marriage, and parenthood) might be understood as a radical act of introversion and self-discovery.

A screenshot from Pull Stay [Image: Nito Souji]

In keeping with this picture change, some hikikomori have wealthy creative lives, and this may maintain very important human connection. Many individuals are actually dwelling in obligatory isolation due to COVID-19. Whereas this isn’t the identical as being hikikomori, we are able to study from the alternative ways in which these individuals have navigated by means of, or are nonetheless navigating by means of, experiences of isolation.

Stunning scars

Ex-hikikomori artist Atsushi Watanabe explains that his three-year isolation started by means of “a number of levels of withdrawal from human relationships, which resulted in feeling fully remoted.” At one level, he remained in mattress for greater than seven months. It wasn’t till he started to see the damaging affect that his withdrawal was having on his mom that he was in a position to go away his room and reconnect with the world.

“Tell me your emotional scars” is an ongoing creative mission by Watanabe. On this mission, individuals can submit nameless messages on an internet site, sharing experiences of emotional ache. Watanabe renders the messages into concrete plates, which he then breaks and places again collectively once more utilizing the standard Japanese artwork of kintsugi.

Kinstugi entails the becoming a member of of damaged ceramics utilizing a lacquer blended with powdered gold. It is usually a philosophy that stresses the artwork of resilience. The breakage just isn’t the tip of the article or one thing to be hidden, however a factor to be celebrated as a part of the article’s historical past.

Inform me your emotional scars might be understood as a sublimation of this emotional ache—conveying damaging, asocial emotions by means of a course of that’s socially acceptable, constructive, and delightful. These works are a testomony to struggling, however in a means that celebrates the opportunity of therapeutic and transformation.

For Watanabe, changing into hikikomori is usually a manifestation of emotional scars, and he needs to create other ways of understanding unresolved previous experiences. Watanabe asks us to “hearken to the shaky voices that can’t normally be heard.” Listening to and sharing experiences of hardship and even ache is one technique to deal with the rise in loneliness that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Combating for privateness

Artist Nito Souji turned a hikikomori as a result of he wished to spend his time doing “solely issues which can be worthwhile.” Souji has spent 10 years in isolation creating his creative apply, resulting in a video game that explores the hikikomori expertise.

The trailer for the online game Pull Stay opens with a scene in which three individuals break into the house of a hikikomori. The participant should combat off intruders because the hikikomori’s robotic alter-ego by, for instance, frying them in tempura batter or firing water melons at them.

The goal of Pull Keep is to guard the house and seclusion of the hikikomori character. In doing so, the participant begins to embody a visceral want for privateness. Pull Keep is testomony to the creative outcomes that may come from carving out a profound sense of “headspace.” Souji explains his creative course of as “having hope and making a bit progress each day. That labored for me.”

Regardless of selecting to withdraw from society, sustaining hope and oblique connection by means of creative apply has helped artists akin to Souji use this time for self-development. His goal is, and all the time has been, to have the ability to reenter society, however on his personal phrases.

Properly-known Japanese entrepreneur Kazumi Ieiri, himself a recovered recluse, describes the hikikomori expertise as “a scenario the place the knot is untied between you and society.” However, he continues, there isn’t any must hurry to retie social bonds, slightly to “tie small knots, little by little.”

The method of returning to “regular life” is likely to be gradual for many people, however creative expression could possibly be a strong technique to each share experiences of isolation and to reconnect with others inside and past lockdown.

Jessica Holtaway is a lecturer in visible communication at Solent University.