A hikikomori is someone who has hidden away from society and often fears going outside. In the most severe cases, hikikomori will refuse to leave their house at all, often relying on family for money.
That being said, being a hikikomori shut-in is a psychological condition that disrupts lives. Even if hikikomori want to work, how can someone afraid of leaving the house ever find a job?
Comments From a Hikikomori
“If you want to shut yourself away, then do it” – is something I was told. But with my parents getting older, I’ve started to worry about how I should live from here-on-out. It would be pretty difficult for me to suddenly jump into full-time work, but I still want to do some kind of work. If that’s the case, isn’t there a job I can do while being a hikikomori?
Working as a Hikikomori
Just after 10 am, Hirano logs onto his computer to inform his boss how much he will work today through a web-based chat service. This is one of the company’s rules that ensures Hirano can work stress-free.
Hirano is 34 years old. It was when he was a high school student that his shut-in condition started. Last year, he was able to find remote work that allowed him to work from home.
Much of his work is creating and maintaining home pages for websites. Without ever commuting to work, he is able to work at his own pace.
“There are times when I want to talk to someone, and times when I don’t. By working at home, people can work at a pace that suits them”.
The pressure of exams.
Hirano’s hikikomori condition started with the pressure of university entrance exams. His grades were top-class, and he was told he had a good chance to get into Japan’s top universities. But in his first year of high school, his mother passed away.
During his second year, where the studying for university exams becomes intense, Hirano broke under the pressure. When riding the train to school one day, he suddenly started feeling ill. After that, every time he went to the train station, he would start to feel ill. Eventually, this lead to him dropping out of high school.
Hirano enrolled in online university courses, but he struggled to find employment. “I honestly thought it wouldn’t be bad to continue as a hikikomori forever. Living with only my father, I started to worry about what would happen when he passed away, but I still didn’t have the motivation to take action yet.”
Last year in April, Hirano was becoming more and more worried about his future. After talking to another hikikomori, he heard about the company where he works now.
Japan’s First Hikikomori Company
The Tokyo-based company where Hirano works has 10 employees who are all in similar situations. The company is called “MechaKoma” for short, which means “we are hard-workers with an eye for detail”.
The president of MechaKoma says one reason he set up this company was that one of his cousins are also a hikikomori. “I didn’t have any negative images about hikikomori. Sure, they may not be the best communicators, but they often have extremely high skills in other areas”.
The president, who used to run an online IT course, understood the lack of workers in the IT industry, and so came up with this idea.
Because many website designers, programmers, and app makers can work at home, this work is well suited for a hikikomori. At MechaKoma, workers can contact the company through web chat, and can freely take time off when they need it. The company makes sure the employees are healthy and can further advance their skills,
Hirano has recently become a full-time employee, Working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. While it can be physically tiring for him, he can still take breaks and lie down whenever he needs to.
With an estimated number of nearly a million hikikomori in Japan, could this be a new way forward?