Half a Million Young Koreans Turn Back on the World

      November 04, 2021 08:56

      More and more young Koreans live as recluses because they failed to live up to society's high expectations. The phenomenon was first observed in Japan in the 1990s, where they are dubbed "hikikomori."

      Recluses typically cut off all contact with friends after failing to land a prestigious job or meet other expectations they believe the country's highly competitive society has of them.

      According to a study by the Seoul Institute, 2.9 percent of Koreans aged 18 to 34 are recluses, leaving their homes only to go to the convenience store round the corner. That boils down to three out of every 100 young Koreans. And 32 percent of them are said to have been recluses for more than three years.

      The study reveals that 41.6 percent of young recluses broke contact with the outside world due to their inability to find work, while 17.7 percent cited difficulty interacting with other people.

      Another study last year by the National Youth Policy Institute put the number of hikikomori even higher at 4.7 percent of young Koreans. Considering there are around 10.89 million people in Korea between 18 to 34, that would boil down to 510,000 people.

      Minoru Ohkusa, a supervisor at the Korean office of K2 International, a Japanese support group for hikikomori, said, "Korean, Chinese and Japanese societies value capability, which leads to recognition, but unlike in China, opportunities have disappeared in Korea and Japan due to economic slumps. In the West, youngsters grow independent from their parents and those who are incapable of supporting themselves are on welfare, but in Asia many young people still live with their parents and end up becoming recluses at home."

      Kim Hye-won, a professor at Hoseo University, said, "Young people are finding it difficult to endure failure in an ultra-competitive society where anyone who does not have a good job or academic background is treated like a loser. It has become more difficult to find jobs or to achieve one's goals and it is not surprising to see more people turn into recluses."

      One 33-year-old recluse who only gave his surname as Kim said, "I shut myself off from the world because I couldn't handle memories of failure in the military and the reality that I’m still dependent on my mother at this age."

      Oh Sang-bin, a counselor in Gwangju, said, "The coronavirus pandemic has deepened people's seclusion due to lockdown and the proliferation of social media."

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