Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Biopower: Hikikomori is not mental illness

               If the hikikomori are isolating themselves from society because it upsets/saddens them… how do they differ from the mentally ill, depressed, and suicidal? After all, the first that have tried to define this phenomenon have been those in the medical field. Medical journals refer to these individuals as ‘afflicted’ with ‘symptoms’ such as hopelessness, relationship fatigue, and distrust. With the application of a Foucaldian lens, it is clear the medicalization of this movement is insufficient at explaining what is going on, why, and fails at remedying the situation as well. Much like tattooing is socially therapeutic for some Japanese citizens, Hikikomori too provides a sense of catharsis and escape in a stressful societal system. Just like the act of tattooing is not matter-of-factly indicative of depression, neither is Hikikomori. It is simply a misunderstood social movement.
               Ozawa de-Silva’s article analyzing depression and suicide in Japan helps distinguish their differences and establish them as entirely separate entities. It is evident from this article that the depressed and suicidal in Japan are not seeking autonomy from, but are giving themselves up to the pressures acting upon them in society. Ozawa de-Silva references Kitanaka whose “research argues that ‘choice’ is not the same as ‘autonomy’, as choices (such as making a decision how to die) are limited… [and] not separable from social limitations” in order to emphasize that suicide is not an act of social liberation, but of social desperation (Ozawa de-Silva, 521-522). In Japan, suicide is observed to bring about healing from a state of existential loneliness. This depressed status derives from an absence of ikigai, which is “a feeling that one is needed, essential, not merely a nameless cog in the machine that could be replaced without anyone noticing” (Ibid., 534). This sentiment is emblematic of “the cultural nightmare of Japanese [which] is to be excluded from others”; a sentiment that is only a facet of the culture because of sovereign insistence that “interdependence is imperative” and that “individual desire [is] with selfishness or arrogance” (Ibid., 537). The practice of Hikikomori is not only incongruent, but directly undermines the ideals of communal collectivity and belonging propagated by the nation-state. They are communal only in their decision to isolate themselves from the community. Each hikikomori individual is not upset that they could be replaced by another cog in the machine, but that they exist in the machine at all. By removing their body from the social network, they are being the selfish and arrogant citizens antagonized by the nation-state. Thus, the hikikomori prove to be at least seeking agency while the depressed and suicidal prove blind to or accepting of their embeddedness in the circulation of power that is society. 

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