'Rental Sisters' Are Helping Over A Million Reclusive Men Re-Enter Society
About 1.5 million Japanese men have shut themselves off from society, often not leaving the house for months on end. Now work is underway to coax these men out of their isolation.
In Japan, the social phenomenon known as Hikikomori -- a psychological condition which makes people completely shut themselves off from society -- is reaching crisis point.
The Japanese Government released a report in 2016, estimating the number of Hikikomori between the ages of 15 to 30 had reached 540,000.
That number has since skyrocketed, with roughly 1.55 million people on the verge of becoming a recluse.
It was first recognised as a social issue in the 1980's. The individuals affected don't work or study, they are not considered to have a mental disorder but have remained at home, not participating in society or showing a desire to do so for at least a year.
They often rely on their parents to take care of them.
Hikikomori can come in various forms: One person can lack the energy to leave their bed, another could suffer an obsessive-compulsive disorder so serious they shower or scrub floors for hours, while some play video games until sunrise.
"Sweeping generalisations are always misleading... but it seems they are mostly males who exhibit extreme symptoms of social withdrawal who often live at home with parents who take care of them," Professor Jeff Kingston, an Asian studies professor at Temple University in Tokyo told Business Insider.
The reasons behind the condition are varied and complicated.
Pressure from family or society over life decisions is believed to be a big factor, while heartbreak, bad school reports and bullying are understood to be contributing factors.
"Hikikomori feel a deep sense of shame that they cannot work at a job like ordinary people. They think of themselves as worthless and unqualified for happiness. Almost all feel remorse at having betrayed their parents' expectations," psychiatrist Sekiguchi Hiroshi wrote on Nippon.com
"At the same time, they are beset by internal conflict between the self that cannot go out into the world and the self that constantly condemns their failure to do so."
Often, their families don’t know what to do, how to cope or who to turn to, but one organisation called New Start which is offering “Rental Sisters” to help coax these young men out of their isolation and demand is increasing by the month.
Families pay up to $AU1,216 every month -- 100,000 yen -- for weekly, hour-long visits.
There is no specific technique, the 'sisters' slowly build a connection with the Hikikomori, usually with several letters or phone calls before visiting them at their home.
It can sometimes take up to two years of visits just to get some cases to leave their homes.
There are fears that many with the condition will approach their 60's and 70's and be left without family support, while the growing number of those labelled as Hikikomori could soon begin to impact Japan's economy.
It's an issue being watched very closely by the Japanese government, as well as social groups and professionals.