In the last 25 years a large focus on youth culture phenomena that are viewed as undesirable or detrimental to Japanese culture and society has begun to surface in Japan. News media and entertainment media alike have contributed to the recent moral panic over NEETs, freeters, and hikikomori in Japan, despite the fact that none of these phenomena were previously unknown or are unique only to Japan. Today these phenomena are commonly associated with Japan and its culture, an unfortunate side effect of the media influenced panic.
Unemployment rose and many long time employees lost their job security and benefits as Japan entered its post-bubble years, and the youth began to find that many doors of opportunity had become permanently closed to them. In a society primarily consisting of older adults, many youth found that it became increasingly difficult to find long-term employment, and as a result many young Japanese became disenfranchised with the Japanese school-to-work system. They began to question the value of working through in such strict, high stress, upper level educational environments if there were no employment opportunities waiting for them at the end.
This resulted in a “new” social phenomenon: a large and growing number of NEETS. The official Japanese definition of NEETs is unmarried 15 to 34 year olds who are not in education, employment, or training . While such individuals have always existed, this new NEET craze has whipped up a media frenzy. NEETs were already considered undesirable, however this sudden focus on the phenomenon inspired a moral panic and outrage against them.
Genda Yūji, a professor of labor economics at the University of Tokyo Institute of Social Science, stated, “Niito are youth who do want to work but are simply unable to do so, they typically lack confidence and communication skills; many have low educational qualifications and/or are drop outs” . Yet despite similar opinions and findings from other prominent social scholars, the largely negative view on NEETs has remained prominent, due in large part to the media. One Sankei Shinbun headline from 2004 stated, “Non-working youth called ‘niito’ increase 1.6-fold over ten years, have no will to work, sponge off parents” . Another from the Asahi Shinbun reads, “Non-studying, non-working youth, ‘nitto’, will reach one million in six years says a Dai-Ichi Seimei study”  These headlines provide a good example of the how the media view NEETs. It served to ostracize and punish those who fit the NEET definition, without paying appropriate attention to the social and cultural circumstances that created them.
The postbubble economy has created another rather large worker subculture that has inspired a similar, if less severe moral panic: freeters. Freeters are workers whose sole means of employment are a string of part time and seasonal jobs. The freeter lifestyle allows for more flexibility and increased mobility in youth, so it is typically seen to be made up of those individuals who have rejected their expected social role as full time salary workers in favor of the freedom to pursue other personal interests .
However, this view tends to judge present day freeters on the norms of the pre-bubble economic culture. Rather than making a conscious choice to take on the lifestyle of a freeter, following the economic crash many individuals who lost their lifetime employment and assets were forced to become freeters. Businesses prioritized their older employees, and as a result many young workers who were just starting out or were attempting to find employment were shut out. In the years since the crash, many of these workers have continued to find themselves trapped and unable to break out in such a small job market .
Hikikomori, which literally translated means “withdrawal”, are those individuals who spend extended portions of their lives in seclusion. Hikikomori typically do not leave their rooms, not even for jobs, school, or to spend time with friends. They instead spend all their time working on hobbies, listening to music, watching television and movies, and surfing the internet.
This form of social isolation can be brought about by a variety of factors, ranging from mental illness, extreme apathy, self-loathing brought on by a history of bullying, to their failure or inability to conform to the accepted social norms . While shut ins are known throughout the world, hikikomori have become a particularly Japanese occur problem due to prominent social factors that might influence the choice to become one.
In many societies, the youth who feel isolated or rejected tend to form subgroups, to emphasize and idolize the qualities that allow them to be unique individuals . However, the Japanese society places an enormous value on conformity and all individuals living and working in unity. Therefore, to those Japanese youth who find themselves unable to conform may find themselves turning to isolation . Rather than work to change themselves, they may find it easier to instead isolate themselves in their rooms, disconnected from society.
Although none of these three phenomena are unique to Japan, why do you think that they seem to only be so prominent in the Japanese public conscious?
Could Azuma’s claim that the loss of desire for a grand narrative in fiction serve as a parallel to Japanese youth disenchantment with expected social norms?
One organization that works with NEETS in the UK http://reallyneet.co.uk/about/
Japan Labor and Employment Statistics http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/roudou/qa-1.htm
More information on hikikomori http://postbubbleculture.blogs.wm.edu/2011/03/27/a-lonely-lockdown-the-hikikomori-phenomenon/
 Allison, Anne. Precarious Japan. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. Print
 Goodman, Roger, Yuki Imoto, and Tuukka Toivonen. A Sociology of Japanese Youth: From returnees to NEETs. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
 Jones, Maggie. “Shutting Themselves In.” The New York Times. 15 Jan 2006. Web. 5 April 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/15/magazine/15japanese.html?_r=3&pagewanted=all
 Wang, Shirley. “The Fight to Save Japan’s Young Shut-Ins.” The Wall Street Journal. 26 Jan 2015. Web 22 April 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fight-to-save-japans-young-shut-ins-1422292138