Otaku, Hikikomori, NEETs, and Other Forms of Deviance in Japan
Japan is home to a unique culture and background and is famous as an economic power around the world. The island country is home to its own traditions, religions, and customs that varies depending on location. Some holidays, like Valentine's Day, and traditions of the West have become changed to make it as unique a holiday exclusive to Japan.
But like all societies, Japan's society is full of deviance. Deviance, in this case being unusual behavior, or behavior that does not follow conventional norms of society. There are plenty of labels for plenty of different forms of deviance in Japan. Some of these forms of deviance may not be exclusive in Japan, however and might be seen in other parts of the world. This article discusses only some of the known deviance forms in Japan as the author (which is me) does not contain extensive knowledge of all forms of deviance.
Among the kind of deviance in Japan, the most commonly known, I believe, is the otaku. There are also the NEET, the Hikikomori, the Freeter, the Yankee, etc. A couple of them should be familiar to fans of anime and manga, and Japanese pop culture in general, and are often times displayed in anime and manga, and other forms of media in Japan, especially the otaku.
We all know who an otaku is. At least, if you read manga or watch anime, or have been to Japan, you know what an otaku is. They're the nerds who like reading comics, watch the cartoons, and collect merchandise relating to comics and cartoons. Huge fans would flock to conventions by the thousands to share and spread their love of anime and manga to one another, expressing that love through costumes, fan-art, purchasing merchandise and the such. So, not that much different from the typical American nerd who loves reading graphic novels about superheroes and dressing up as their favorite hero in a comic book convention. It's just that the otaku's focus is more on manga and anime, or anything that relates to manga and anime.
To those of you who don't know, manga and anime are comics and cartoon animations produced in Japan that have gained world-wide popularity and fan-base in recent years, with followers from young pre-teens to full-grown adults. While it's not uncommon for boys and girls in Japan to read the occasional manga, watch anime shows like children in America watch Saturday cartoons, and adults to watch now and then (even adults watch cartoons from time to time), otaku, like the nerd, take it to a whole another level. And for that, mainstream society looks down on them, and fearful of their unusual behavior.
In media, including in manga and anime, otaku are often seen as either weird slobs, portrayed with disgusting appearance, or as normal-looking people with strange and unusual behavior. Being an otaku can also be like recognizing oneself as a deviant. Deviance, as one would recall, is behavior that does not match with mainstream society. In some mainstream media, especially in manga and anime, some characters of a story who are otaku act self-conscious about their being otaku and take measures to even hide it from other people. Parents, understandably, find manga and anime as negative for their children, not all that unusual from the American parent who doesn't like it when their kids still read comics or watch cartoons upon reaching adolescence.
But can being a huge lover of manga and anime really be considered a deviance? As mentioned before, deviance stands for unusual behavior. But in reality, participating in the culture is as common worldwide as kids getting up, getting ready, and going to school. Millions of people don on the costumes, go to the conventions, draw their own fan art and sell to others, forming a subculture that could literally be international. How can being otaku be classified as deviance when so many people are a part of the culture?
Thus, being otaku is like being deviant, yet not deviant at the same time.
"Hikikomori" is a term used for shut-ins in Japan. People who fall under this category completely withdraw from the rest of society and isolate themselves in their homes, refusing to go out for a time period that exceeds half a year. There could be hikikomori who've never left their houses in decades! Those are the extreme cases. Commonly Japanese media like manga and anime (are you sensing a pattern or noticing something?) hikikomori are considered unusual in behavior, careless in appearance, having messy living spaces, and maybe have a social problem or two. They like indoor activities more than outdoor activities, and don't have a lot of friends.
While they never leave their houses, and don't seem to be employed in any way, I do believe thanks to today's technology, it is now very much possible to survive while never leaving home. Computers and the internet make it possible to work from the home, if a person knows how. Communication with the outside world is limitless thanks to the internet, and cell phones. People can sell, trade, share information on the internet, do research and write up reports from their own, personal computers.
But what could make a person a hikikomori? It could be a reaction to pressures in the outside world that made them the way they were. By staying home, they don't have to deal with such pressures of outside society. A hikikomori could be insecure, shy people who don't want to interact with others because they are shy and insecure. They could also have become a hikikomori due to negative experiences or trauma, such as the loss of someone close or having failed in school or society in some way. In Japan, failure is extremely rarely an option and the pressures of the Japanese ideal could push people negatively. Ideals in any society often times come with their own setbacks and overlook some of the realities in today's world.
NEET is an acronym that stands for "Not in Education, Employment or Training". While this term has its origins in the West, it is mostly used in Asian countries like Japan. To be a NEET is to be unable to or won't find a job. They are sometimes people who don't accept the social norms and opinions of what it means to be an adult. The basic ideal in Japan is to find full-time employment upon graduation, or take on traditional occupations that could lead to goals formed from Japanese ideology. To not follow that traditional ideology, you can understand why this is a kind of deviance.
As they don't have full-time employment, they fall back on their parents to support them. Having parents to support their lifestyle, sometimes NEET can become hikikomori.
Freeters age ranging between adolescence to their mid-thirties. They are sort of like the NEETs, but in their case, it's simply that they don't want to work that they don't work, though it could be that their lifestyle was not a choice, but an only option. Well, they do work, sometimes. It's just they don't want to work the traditional salary-man sort of jobs. Instead of trying to build a career once they were done with school, they go to low-paying, sometimes part-time jobs. Some freeters may even freelance. Freeters could be high school drop-outs, which could explain some things. They become what a teacher of mine called "Parasite Singles," using the actual term for them, which means they live with their parents without having to pay a single yen.
Some freeters chooose this way of living because they have dreams that don't really match up with Japanese social norms of employment and career. It could also be that they value freedom greatly and enjoy life. These two types are the kinds that choose to become freeters of their own free will. As mentioned before, sometimes a person doesn't really have any other choice but to become a freeter, being unable to find a decent job.
The yankee is another figure of deviance that is common in Japanese media, manga, and anime. It is a term for both girls and boys and was a word borrowed from the American language. They're the bullies who like to pick fights. They're the delinquents, mostly in high school, who skip school to hang out with the gangs. You see them manga and anime wearing their school uniforms in a sloppy way, walk around with their shoulders hunched, sometimes wearing face masks like those for medical surgeons, and carrying wood swords around. For girl yankees, they wear skirts that are LONGER than standard uniform. It's weird, since there really should be nothing wrong with that kind of deviance, right? But everything else is the same for boys and girls, especially the part about playing hooky and fighting other gangs, acting tough.