The 8050 Problem

Hikikomori, a term used to describe people who have shut themselves out from society, is a growing problem in Japan. There are currently more hikikomoris middle-aged and above than younger ones.

According to a survey done by the Cabinet Office, there are currently about 610,000 hikikomoris aged 40-64 compared to 540,000 under 40. While hikikomori has been thought to be an issue of young people who decline to attend school, it has become apparent that the problem is even more serious among the middle-aged and above.

Among the older group of hikikomori, those aged 40-44 make up a quarter of them. These group of people, known as the post-second generation baby boomers graduated around year 2000, after the burst of the Japanese economy bubble. With the massive numbers of graduates and the lack of jobs due to the ailing economy, this period came to be known as the “Ice Age of Job-Hunting” and many of these people turned hikikomori after failing to land themselves jobs for prolonged periods of time.

However, in many municipalities, government plans to assist hikikomoris are targeted at those under 39 years old. And if those in their 40s do not receive assistance to break out of this lifestyle, they may eventually die with the passing of their parents. This is because in 10 years, these people will be in their 50s and their parents in their 80s. Their parents will then be using pension payouts for the livelihood of their hikikomori children as well. And when the parents pass away, their source of income will be cut, and that’s what is called the 8050 problem.

Since 2018, there has been an increase in the case of elderly people between 40-60 years old being arrested for abandoning dead bodies of their parents. Of course they didn’t kill their parents, but they simply left their parents’ body as is after they pass away. Some of these bodies were even found lying in their futon as the deceased simply passed away while sleeping. The reasons for the abandonment of the bodies stemmed from a psychological fear of speaking with people, and so they declined to seek help.

I’ve always found the hikikomori situation intriguing in that I wonder why it is so rampant in Japan as opposed to Singapore. Is it because of the more severe kind of bullying at school in Japan? Is it because of the kindness of Japanese people in general that makes bullying more mentally traumatizing? Is it because the education system allows one to graduate with a secondary school certification without having to attend a single day of school for 9 years of their lives so it makes it easy for parents to just let their children do as they please until it’s too late? Is it because of the irresponsibility of schools to rather not have to deal with cumbersome issues that they leave them be (after all, it’s not uncommon for schools to deny the existence of bullying until the victim commits suicide)? Or is it simply because of the population difference that makes its absolute figures starker?

When I try to put it in numbers, I found that a little under 1 percent of the Japanese population are hikikomoris. In Singapore’s approximately 5.5 million population, that would make about 50,000 Singaporeans.

Seems like a possible figure, maybe?


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