Japanese - Term 2, 2020

Hikikomori and the coronavirus

As we head into our possible seventh week of staying at home, working on laptops and socially distancing, the social isolation is becoming the most difficult aspect. Being unable to meet up with extended family for long slow dinners, missing work meetings where we would not be just faces on a screen, not having the chats over cups of tea in the lunchroom that often lead to highly productive moments. These are the things that I have missed while working from home. 

It has been odd in our household, as our youngest daughter, living with us, has been dealing with various health and mental health issues for some time, and has in many ways ended up somewhat socially isolated for many months prior to the enforced lockdown. We now proclaim her as the expert as we share our family cups of tea, as she has been living a virtual life – communicating with friends online, living quietly at home and keeping to herself – for some time. She laughs and gives us advice on how to manage it, and her laughter gives us hope that, when this is over, she will be keen to re-engage with society more.  

Japan is known for its phenomenon of “hikikomori” ( (ひきこもる) - the root of this verb, which means "to confine oneself indoors," comes from hiku ("to pull back") and komoru ("to seclude oneself"), those who withdraw from society and become hermits at home. Now recognised as not being just something in Japanese society, but found world-wide, and being widely researched as a condition that is perhaps a response to the pressures of the modern world, hikikomori have become more and more recognised and talked about over recent years. Japanese society has had to acknowledge and come to terms with this growing group of people – it is estimated that there are up to 1 million hikikomori in Japan. For many families, it was a source of great shame to have a hikikomori in their home, as it seemed to be an admission of failure. Unable to conform to societal expectations, withdrawal is often seen as the only way for some to cope and find some sort of peace. 

Many are trying to help these hikikomori now to re-engage with society, and there are some signs of hope. Magazines are now being published for and by hikikomori such as Hikipos, which has a range of articles on what people are doing in their isolated existence. Researchers and social workers are engaging with and finding ways to help those who wish to emerge from their social isolation to do so.

Japanese people are, perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek, looking to the hikikomori for guidance in how to survive as they hunker down during the coronavirus epidemic – suddenly, the life of the hikikomori has become the norm for an entire population. Lives are lived at home, with online connections, deliveries of food and other essentials, and many Japanese now are becoming hikikomori by necessity, mimicking the lives of those who have lived with this title for years. 

Perhaps the virus will lead to people having a better understanding of those who choose to withdraw from mainstream life and live a life of social isolation. It may allow those for whom this is their only lifestyle choice a way of seeking some acceptance for their way of life. 

Articles for further reading: 

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/04/d5183b807f64-feature-what-japans-hikikomori-can-teach-us-about-self-isolation.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2019/06/01/lifestyle/prison-inside-japans-hikikomori-lack-relationships-not-physical-spaces/#.Xrh1mGgzbIU

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2018/february/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/202001/is-hikikomori-extreme-social-withdrawal-global-epidemic

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190129-the-plight-of-japans-modern-hermits

Artcile written by Belinda Sydenham, Professional Expert, Future Learning Solutions - Centre for Languages


An introduction to Boro

Like so many people during New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdown, the educators at Manawatu’s Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and Heritage were unable to do their usual jobs. Instead, like thousands of others, they worked from home and improvised; developing online Discovery Time education packs for children, families and teachers. 

One of these packs is about ‘Boro’, which is a ‘not so well known’ type of Japanese textile. Boro is unique aged ‘ragged, tattered, hand-stitched and repaired’ items of clothing, bedding and other items, usually made of hand-woven cotton or linen fabric, often hand-dyed with indigo. 

Educator Pip Steel’s enthusiasm for indigo-dyed fabric and her connection with Boro were serendipitous. Around ten years ago, the hazy idea to make a bedcover for her eldest son led her to a school hall in Taupo, and a quilt exhibition where she met a stallholder selling Japanese indigo-dyed material. An exciting new world opened up. 

Pip learned about sashiko (the traditional Japanese hand-sewing technique) and she started to stitch. Ever so slowly Oliver’s bedcover took shape, featuring many different stitched patterns and using materials of varying shades of indigo blue. As the work progressed, her online searches for used indigo-dyed fabric led her to discover Boro, and uncover a little about old Japan. She continues to research, hunt for books about Boro and is slowly collecting examples when she can. It has become a passion and is the reason why this online pack was produced.

Find out about Boro, and the things we can learn from it today, for yourselves.  Click here for more information.

Boro image by Pip Steel for Term 2 Newsletter 2020.jpg  
Oliver’s sashiko bedcover by Pip Steel

Article written by Pip Steel from Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and Heritage, Palmerston North