Hikikomori: Why S Korea is paying young recluses to leave home

Hikikomori: Why S Korea is paying young recluses to leave home

BBC·2023-05-27 09:00

Image caption,

Yoo Seung-gyu used to isolate himself in his room - and even avoid the washroom to not have to see his family

By Hyunjung Kim & Kelly Ng

in Seoul and Singapore

In 2019, Yoo Seung-gyu stepped out of his studio apartment for the first time in five years.

The 30-year-old first cleaned up his "messy apartment" with his brother. And then he went out to sea for a fishing expedition, with fellow recluses he had met through a non-profit organisation.

"It was a weird feeling to be at sea but at the same time very refreshing after the reclusion. It felt unreal, but surely I was there. I was existing," Mr Yoo said.

A growing number of young South Koreans are choosing to isolate themselves, withdrawing fully from a society that exacts a high price for failing to conform to expectations.

These recluses are known as hikikomori, a term first coined in Japan in the 1990s to describe severe social withdrawal amongst adolescents and young adults.

In South Korea, which is battling the world's lowest fertility rate and declining productivity, this has become a serious concern. So much so that authorities are offering young recluses who meet a certain income threshold a monthly stipend to coax them out of their homes.


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