Exploring the extent of the hikikomori phenomenon on twitter: Mixed methods study of western language tweets

Victor Pereira-Sanchez, Miguel Angel Alvarez-Mon, Angel Asunsolo Del Barco, Melchor Alvarez-Mon, Alan Teo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background: Hikikomori is a severe form of social withdrawal, originally described in Japan but recently reported in other countries. Debate exists as to what extent hikikomori is viewed as a problem outside of the Japanese context. Objective: We aimed to explore perceptions about hikikomori outside Japan by analyzing Western language content from the popular social media platform, Twitter. Methods: We conducted a mixed methods analysis of all publicly available tweets using the hashtag #hikikomori between February 1 and August 16, 2018, in 5 Western languages (Catalan, English, French, Italian, and Spanish). Tweets were first classified as to whether they described hikikomori as a problem or a nonproblematic phenomenon. Tweets regarding hikikomori as a problem were then subclassified in terms of the type of problem (medical, social, or anecdotal) they referred to, and we marked if they referenced scientific publications or the presence of hikikomori in countries other than Japan. We also examined measures of interest in content related to hikikomori, including retweets, likes, and associated hashtags. Results: A total of 1042 tweets used #hikikomori, and 656 (62.3%) were included in the content analysis. Most of the included tweets were written in English (44.20%) and Italian (34.16%), and a majority (56.70%) discussed hikikomori as a problem. Tweets referencing scientific publications (3.96%) and hikikomori as present in countries other than Japan (13.57%) were less common. Tweets mentioning hikikomori outside Japan were statistically more likely to be retweeted (P=.01) and liked (P=.01) than those not mentioning it, whereas tweets with explicit scientific references were statistically more retweeted (P=.01) but not liked (P=.10) than those without that reference. Retweet and like figures were not statistically significantly different among other categories and subcategories. The most associated hashtags included references to Japan, mental health, and the youth. Conclusions: Hikikomori is a repeated word in non-Japanese Western languages on Twitter, suggesting the presence of hikikomori in countries outside Japan. Most tweets treat hikikomori as a problem, but the ways they post about it are highly heterogeneous.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14167
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Hidden youth
  • Hikikomori
  • Loneliness
  • Social isolation
  • Social media
  • Social withdrawal
  • Twitter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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