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At the Mother’s Breast: Amae, Hikikomori, and the Rejection of Conformity in Japanese Society

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Kristen Ton

on 21 April 2016

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Transcript of At the Mother’s Breast: Amae, Hikikomori, and the Rejection of Conformity in Japanese Society

At the Mother’s Breast:
The phenomenon of
hikikomori
It’s a symptom, not an illness.
shakaiteki hikikomori
, or
social withdrawal
, defined by Saitō Tamaki as:
The Japanese sensitivity to
amae
Amae
, according to Takeo Doi, originates in the relationship between a
mother and her infant
, making it possible for the mother to understand the infant mind and respond to its needs, so that mother and child can enjoy a sense of commingling and identity.
Amaeru
-ing
Amaeru
-ing is
actively seeking
amae
, and involves a reliance on others for gratification, specifically a person who
perceives
,
accepts
, and
meets the need
.

This is generally "cute" behavior in children, but is considered negative when pointed out in adults.
Keep this in mind:
Essentially, above all else, the Japanese value
social harmony
and
group association
.
Amae
in adulthood
Doi elaborates that
amae
“represents an attempt to
draw close
to the other person.”
It can be used to describe the relationship between lovers, friends, husband and wife, teacher and student, even employer and employee.
by Kristen Camille Ton
Amae
,
Hikikomori
, and the Rejection of Conformity in Japanese Society

There are about
700,000
recorded
hikikomori
in Japan, but the real number is likely upward of
1,000,000
—that’s roughly 1% of Japan’s population.

80% of
hikikomori
are
men
, and they are usually
eldest
sons. Their parents are generally highly educated and have well-paying jobs.

A state that has become a problem
by the late twenties
, that involves cooping oneself up
in one’s own home
and not participating in society for
six months or longer
, but that
does not
seem to have
another psychological problem
as its principle source.
“You are
amaeru
-ing” or “He is
amaeru
-ing.”
The role
of the mother
Codependency
This is
not a stable, reciprocal relationship
in which people agree “I carry you, and you carry me.’ This is a relationship in which A supports B, and B uses A as a tool for his own satisfaction, and as a result it is one-sided and unstable.

Amae
can facilitate codependency
, where the
hikikomori
solely relies on his or her parents for support—and the parents are generally willing to concede to their child rather than seek outside help.
Relapsing to childhood
Well over 1/3 of
hikikomori
will
regress to infantile behavior
; for instance, if one such hikikomori’s desires are not met, if his or her
amae
goes unfulfilled, this individual will become fussy, thrashing limbs and pleading with tears.
Who cares about social harmony anymore?
These youths are
consciously

rejecting
dominant cultural values of
harmony-seeking
and consequently deviating in their motivation to conform to others’ behaviors.

Because they are not identifying with mainstream cultural values, they cannot maintain public face, and so avoid social interaction altogether.

Is it a culture-bound syndrome?
While it’s not uncommon for youths to reject society at large, this is simply how it manifests in Japan. Parents enable their children to live such a lifestyle where they can keep to their family homes. In America, youths who do not engage with society might be forced to live on the streets.
Full transcript