Almost 1.5 million people of working age in Japan are living as social recluses, according to a government survey, with about a fifth of cases attributed to the pressures unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Large numbers of hikikomori said they had begun retreating from mainstream society due to relationship issues and after losing or leaving their jobs, the cabinet office said. A significant proportion – 20.6% – said their predicament had been triggered by changes in lifestyle imposed during the pandemic.
Hikikomori – classed as people who withdraw from society, spending all or almost all of their time isolated at home – account for 2% of people aged 15-62, the survey found.The cabinet office surveyed 30,000 people between the ages of 10 and 69 across Japan last November. The poll found that just over a fifth of respondents aged 15-39 had been socially isolated from six months to less than a year. More than 20% said they had experienced problems with interpersonal relationships, while just over 18% cited the pandemic.
Among people in the 40-64 age range, 44.5% said their behaviour had been triggered by leaving their jobs, followed by 20.6% who cited the pandemic.
Japan did not enforce UK-style lockdowns to help contain the spread of the virus, but people were asked to avoid unnecessary outings for long periods, and some employers and universities encouraged teleworking and remote learning.
On streets that would normally have been teeming with people there was a dramatic drop in footfall after restaurants, bars and other sectors of the nighttime economy were asked to stop serving alcohol and close early, or face fines.
The rise in the number of people living as recluses has prompted some local authorities to take action. Edogawa, a ward in Tokyo, will hold metaverse socialising events from June to give hikikomori the opportunity to meet people via their avatars.
The ward is home to more than 9,000 people, including students who have stopped attending classes, who describe themselves as hikikomori, according to a 2021 survey.