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Maika Elan: Hikikomori

Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam

You think 2 months of Corona quarantine is a trip? Try a decade, like the hikikomori people of Japan. People, who willingly seclude themselves from everyone and the society that surrounds them for years … sometimes decades.

It’s often men, from a middle- or upper class family, they’ve typically suffered some sort of traumatic experience of social- or academic failure and chose to shut themselves away on the expense of their families short after. A muted rebellion, so to speak, born out of spite for the heavily individualistic society Japan has become, where uniformity is still prized, and reputations and outward appearances is paramount.

Isolation is front and center for the hikikomori people – self quarantine in a way, much like the conditions most of us are living under now, except, no one or no virus is forcing them.

It’s not a rare phenomenon. There may be around 1 million hikikomori people living in Japan today – some fear that number might reach 10 million in a couple of years. It’s no joke. The choice of these people shatter families and is burdening the country’s economy in such a way, that the government has stepped in and are offering programs to help people with this bizarre self inflicted syndrome.

The following photographs were taken by Maika Elan, a former resident artist of the Japan Foundation Asian center. During her stay in Chiba, Japan, Maika came in contact with New Start, a non-profit organisation helping hikikomori join the society they turned their backs on years ago. Here, Maika became a ‘Rental Sister’, which is, exactly what it sounds like. A sister for rent, that the hikikomori slowly accepts into their life to help them change it for the better. It’s during this period, she photographed and documented the life of the hikikomori.

The phenomena is fascinating and frightening to say the least. We hope that at the end of this era of isolation and quarantine, that we all have learned as a society to understand this bizarre, yet burdened crowd. Sympathy follows understanding. We reached out to Maika Elan to bring you this story and the following photographs. Enjoy.

Text by Nichlas E. Kofoed

©Maika Elan