Millions of young men live their lives entirely on the Internet, unable to leave the house, in fear of human contact. In response to this troubled niche, an entertainment company has come up with a possible cure. Videos of girls that stare into the camera…. and occasionally say good morning…

A “Hikikomori”, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, is “an individual who refuses to leave their parents’ house, and isolates themselves away from society in their homes for a period exceeding six months”. It’s hard to estimate how many have fallen prey to this anti-social depression, but some estimate it at around one million in Japan alone.

Avex, one of the largest independent entertainment-related subsidiaries in Japan, has managed to come up with a product for the unusual audience. They believe the “Just Looking” collection, will help those “young males who aren’t used to socializing with women (…) become more accustomed to making eye contact and/or handle the fact that a sentient being sits across from them and awaits interaction.” A former sufferer tells us whether he thinks it will work, and how he escaped the solitude of a hikikomori lifestyle.

Despite the apparent lack of activity during the running time, the videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times since they were posted at the end of May. The full collection of 50 is available on Avex’s website. There are a variety of models, including twins and an elderly woman.
“I was in my room for three years, so it took a long time to regain even quite basic social skills”

Tom Jacobsen is a former Hikikomori and programmer from Gurnee, Illinois. He is a Mensa member and runs a blog about his daily life.

I was in my room for three years, so it took a long time to regain even quite basic social skills. In my case, choosing to get back into society was personal – one day I decided I wanted to make some changes in my life. It was very difficult. One thing I did to help was to improve my appearance. I bought some nice clothes and got into shape. That helped a lot. Then I started doing temporary work. You don’t need to interview for that. After a few of those kinds of jobs, I had enough confidence to go for jobs with interviews.

As for the video, I expect they use girls specifically for the sex appeal – the promise of a relationship. Hikikomori have a lot of difficulty with things they don’t understand – and one of those things is girls. The video shows that social experiences don’t have to be scary and tense. Much of the time, Hikikomori kids’ first impressions of social contact have to do with angry, demanding parents and playground bullies, so these videos show that there are other people out there who they might get along with better. Also, the fact that these videos were made (…) will probably have a positive effect in itself. The recluses will think that people really do care about them and want to help them, which should be encouraging to them.

Also, people tend to emulate what they see, so if the Hikikomori see videos of people talking to them, they might want to go out and talk to people themselves, I guess. Something similar happened to me; I spent a lot of my time as a Hikikomori in my room looking at camwhores and their sites, and now I’ve got a webcam site of my own like the ones they have. But I don’t get naked or anything.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the Hikikomori. They are usually quite intelligent, and eventually find a way to integrate into the dominant society, despite their reservations. (…) we will just wait around and hope that nothing bad happens.”

“Will Sato get a job and counter the evil organization, or will he submit to his weakness and download porn all day? Swimming in a sea of corruption, Sato prepares for the battle of his life. Welcome to the NHK!”

Originally written as a novel in 2002, the book “Welcome to the NHK” was adapted into an anime TV series which was released in English in 2007. It tells the story of Sato, a 22 year-old man who thinks that hikikomori has been created by the Japanese public broadcaster “NHK” (who, funnily enough, did air the programme). Then he meets a beautiful girl who promises to help him leave the house and his hikikomori life behind.

Contributer: Tom Jacobsen