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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.


1-3: Riki Cook: 

“Riki Cook, 30, has been a hikikomori for three years. Riki Cook is American-Japanese. His family lives mainly in Hawaii and he lives alone in Japan. The photos were taken in his family’s living room in Chiba, Japan, in 2016” – Elan

4-6: Hiroki Chujo:

“Chujo, 24, has been a hikikomori for two years. He dreams of being a singer, but his family want him to work in business. After working in one company for two years, and experiencing too much stress, Chujo decided to lock himself in his room” – Elan

7-9: Kazuo Okada:

“Kazuo Okada, 48, a hikikomori who has locked himself in his room for seven years. He worked as a clerk previously, but now stays in his room, reading books and playing jazz music” – Elan

10-12: Ikuo Nakamura 

“At the time when I photographed 34 year-old Ikuo Nakamura, he had been in his room for seven years” – Elan

13-15: Sumito Yokoyama:

“Sumito Yokoyama, 43, has been a hikikomori for three years. He graduated from university in 1996, but didn’t find the job that he expected to. When I took these photographs, he said his health was not very good — no serious illness, but he always felt tired and just wanted to stay at home. Sumito Yokoyama died in September 2017 in his apartment. Nobody realized he was dead until his body was discovered two months later by his family” – Elan

Edited by Tofu Collective