A conservative estimate of the number of people now affected is 200,000, but a 2010 survey for the Japanese Cabinet Office came back with a much higher figure - 700,000. Since sufferers are by definition hidden away, Saito himself places the figure higher still, at around one million. The average age of hikikomori also seems to have risen over the last two decades. Before it was 21 - now it is 32. So why do they withdraw? The trigger for a boy retreating to his bedroom might be comparatively slight - poor grades or a broken heart, for example - but the withdrawal itself can become a source of trauma. And powerful social forces can conspire to keep him there. One such force is sekentei, a person's reputation in the community and the pressure he or she feels to impress others. The longer hikikomori remain apart from society, the more aware they become of their social failure. They lose whatever self-esteem and confidence they had and the prospect of leaving home becomes ever more terrifying. Parents are also conscious of their social standing and frequently wait for months before seeking professional help.
...I know we're supposed to view the hikikomori as a bad thing but I remember reading the Russian novel Oblomov about a man who refused to get out of bed and thinking that it seemed like a very good idea. And then there's this adaptation of the JG Ballard story "The Enormous Space" about a man who refuses to leave his house and instead ventures off into what JG Ballard often called 'inner space' (as opposed to outer space.) It reminds me a little of some of the ideas of the German Romantics and I've quoted the German Romantic mystic Novalis here before and I'll do it again now: Nach innen geht der Geheimnisvolle Weg: inward goes the way full of mystery. Check out the BBC JG Ballard adaptation below and see if you agree with me that at the very least it's an interesting and different way to make a William Least Heat Moon style Deep Map of your familiar own home.