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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Society should seek to understand 'Hikikomori' shut-ins

Rika Kayama

There was a dreadful incident in Kawasaki that saw 20 people, including children, attacked with knives, some fatally.

The suspected perpetrator was a 51-year-old man who had grown up in his uncle and aunt's household, a man who hadn't been employed for a long time. He is considered to have led the lifestyle of a "hikikomori," a shut-in whose ties to the wider community are few and weak. Holding on to his feelings of reluctance, he may have strengthened his hatred for society. The man ended his life at the scene of the stabbings so it's impossible to ask him about his motives and other aspects of the incident.

With no testimony available, mass media has resorted to fielding questions to try somehow to unearth a motive from his life as a recluse, asking questions such as, "What was his daily life like at home?" and, "Was he influenced by TV dramas or manga?" or, "What kind of conversations did he have with his uncle and aunt?" In opposition to this interrogation, "Hikikomori UX Kaigi," a support group for shut-ins and children who don't attend school, released a statement.

The statement, which begins by expressing regret and sympathy for the victims of the stabbing rampage, goes on to convey concern that reports linking recluses with the Kawasaki incident perpetuate prejudice against unrelated individuals with the same social isolation problems. Until now, whenever someone of a shut-in persuasion causes an episode like this, negative images of them as potential criminals are conjured up. If allowed to continue in this way, it is possible that the affected and their families will be driven into deeper anxiety and fear.

Their calls to avoid hastily lumping recluses together with this event lead me to reflect upon my own response. Haven't I also been looking for the cause of the stabbings in some link with recluses?

I'm not saying we should stop thinking about what's happened. I can imagine that the attacker, who had lost his connection to society and was isolated, considered his existence unnecessary in this world. And there seems to have been no third-party to intervene for him. It's not that all of these cases lead to crimes, but even so, I believe we need to take this as an opportunity to think about how we can reach out to people who have long been isolated from society.

It goes without saying, but from a point of view of crime prevention we also have to think of ways to keep children safe. But at the same time, I think we mustn't stop reflecting on why this happened and what measures society should take. People online may sound off with views like, "The only thing we should be thinking about now is directing our anger at the selfish perpetrator. There's nothing more to consider than that." But I don't agree with these opinions. I hope to engage with recluses about how the media covers such episodes, among other subjects.

(Japanese original by Rika Kayama, Psychiatrist)

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