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Tokyo's Edogawa Ward to hold metaverse events for recluses

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TOKYO -- A ward office in the Japanese capital will hold metaverse socializing events to help "hikikomori" recluses ease back into society by encouraging their "first steps" as they tend to find it difficult to go outside or meet with people face to face.

    Edogawa Ward's initiative, slated to start in fiscal 2023 for a total of six events, will be held at an actual venue, but allow people to join from the metaverse using their avatars. The ward office will borrow the metaverse created by the nonprofit Kazoku Hikikomori Japan joint association to help those who don't feel easy about revealing their faces or names join the events.

    Real venue participants will discuss themes they have decided on, with Kazoku Hikikomori Japan director Masaki Ikegami as the coordinator, while those using their avatars will also be able to join the discussions from the metaverse as they watch the livestream from the venue. A ward official said, "We want to offer a place where they would think 'I want to be there with the others.'"

    A survey conducted by the ward office in fiscal 2021 found that 9,096 residents, including students who were not attending classes, were hikikomori.

    "We don't think everything will be solved just because we offer a metaverse. It'll probably be helpful for some people," Edogawa Ward Mayor Takeshi Saito said. He added, "We're targeting those who can't leave their rooms and haven't been interacting with other people. We want to help them take a step forward."

    The first meeting is scheduled for June. Preregistration is required, with up to 80 participants (50 in the metaverse and 30 in the real venue). Going forward, the ward office will provide information on its website and public relations magazine.

    (Japanese original by Kohei Chiwaki, Tokyo Bureau)

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