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First nationwide network aims to help socially isolated 'hikikomori'

TOKYO -- People who have or are currently dealing with social withdrawal started an organization this April to build a nationwide network that aims to tackle isolation by making connections with each other.

    Over the last few years, self-help groups for people with social withdrawal, known as "hikikomori" in Japanese, have been cropping up across Japan to deal with the long-lasting effects of the issue. However, the new Tokyo-based NPO organization "Node" is the first nationwide network. It includes directors from nine self-help groups across the Tokyo metropolitan area, Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures, Sapporo, Hokkaido, and other locations.

    Node aims to connect individuals who have or are currently dealing with social withdrawal with local business across Japan and hopefully provide suggestions on how to solve the issue to the central government directly from the point of view of those affected.

    Node will open its website "Hikipedia," a play on the word hikikomori and Wikipedia, on May 7. The site will list information such as local municipal counseling centers and self-help groups where those experiencing social withdrawal can go for help. In addition, the organization also plans to invite representatives from companies that have hired employees that had a history of social isolation for an event on May 19.

    The government estimates that there are approximately 540,000 people between the ages of 15 and 39 who have not gone to school or work and shut themselves away from society for at least six months, while the number of those aged at least 40 shutting themselves in their homes is also significantly high. There are concerns that the period of individuals' social withdrawal has grown longer, and with the age of parents caring for those with social withdrawal on the rise, this had led to many families struggling financially with high medical care or nursing costs.

    Node deputy head Kyoko Hayashi, 51, who experienced social withdrawal twice during her teens and 20s, said, "We want to help lighten the worries of people who have become shut-ins by connecting them with people in similar situations through Node."

    (Japanese original by Hiroyuki Harada, Medical Welfare News Department)

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