In an attempt to attach some numbers to the nebulous concept of hikikomori, the unknown numbers of persons in between the ages of 14 and 40 that consider themselves cut off from the rest of the world, incapable of leaving their rooms or their homes and in contact with only with members of their immediate family, the Cabinet Office tried conducting person-to-person interviews with 5000 citizens 15-to-39 years of age to ask them about their life habits. The interviewers were able to conduct full interviews with 3287 respondents, a 65.7% response rate.
Of the respondents, 1.79% classified themselves to be full-blown hikikomori, a percentage if compare the national population of the age cohorts in question would indicated a national population of 696,000 hikikomori. In addition to those who categorized themselves as hikikomori, some 3.99% of respondents, agreed with expressions such as "There are times I too want to lock myself away" -- making them seeming candidates for a transition to hikikomori status.
However, when one drills down into the numbers, the actual population of the classic hikikomori, of persons locked inside their rooms, being brought meals and leaving only to visit the bathroom, seems insignificantly small.
Total respondents agreeing with the following:
"I hardly ever leave my room" 0.12% "I do not leave the house" 0.09" "I will make occasional trips as far as local convenience store" 0.4%
Adding all these up to a more more narrow definition in line with the popular image of the hikikomori, the government finds a less staggering 236,000 hikikomori, only a tiny fraction of whom are living truly hermetic lives. It is only by adding the above to the 1.19% of the respondents who say, "I go out whenever I need something that helps me pursue my hobbies" that one reaches the 1.79% fraction.
As to why the 1.79% respondents fell into their hermetic lifestyles, 23.7% said, "I got sick" or "I just couldn't fit in at work;" 20.3% said, "My work search did not go well;" 11.9% said, "I stopped attending (elementary, junior high, high) school;" and 6.8% said, "I did not fit in at college."
In the breakdown in the sexes of those classifying themselves as hikikomori, men outnumbered women 2-to-1 (66.1% to 33.9%). As to the age cohorts, 33.9% of the self-identified hikikomori were in their teens, 38.9% in their twenties and 23.7% in their thirties.
Interestingly for those who would seek to reduce the number of hikikomori were the percentages of persons who seemed trapped by embarrassment more than anything else, in need of perhaps nothing more that a little push to get themselves going again. Over 7 out of 10 hikikomori (71.2%) felt sorry for about what they were doing to their families. 50.8 % felt afraid of what others might think of them.
I may be overly optimistic, but it sound like that with a little counseling, perhaps some medication over the short term and a supportive local environment -- together with a temporary expansion of a worker training and job search programs -- the hikikomori social phenomenon can be reduced to a tiny number of truly mentally ill individuals.
Then again, believers in the hikikomori crisis would argue for a vast undercount, saying, "Why would on Earth would hikikomori answer the questions of government survey takers?"
Sources: Jiji Press and Kyodo reports of the findings. Actual Cabinet Office report is not yet available online.