J.D. Salinger, Famous Shut-ins and Hikikomori in Japan


The death of writer J.D. Salinger last week renewed the public’s interest in his reclusive life-style. According to most accounts, Salinger lived a fairly conventional life until after the publication of his most well-known work The Catcher in the Rye – some claim that he actively sought fame and success until he found it and, with no explanation, retreated. He’s in the good company of other famous recluses including: Harper Lee, Lauryn Hill and Bobby Fischer.

Perhaps because the very nature of anti-social behaviour is a closing off from society, it remains something that very few people understand, including those in the medical community. In recent years, pathologically reclusive behaviour has become such a phenomenon in Japan that it has been given its own name: hikikomori. Although his figures are disputed, psychologist Tamaki Saito has estimated that “there may be one million hikikomori in Japan, representing 20% of all male adolescents in Japan, or 1% of the total Japanese population.” According to a fascinating profile of hikikomori in the New York Times, “though female hikikomori exist and may be under counted, experts estimate that about 80 percent of the hikikomori are male, some as young as 13 or 14 and some who live in their rooms for 15 years or more.”

Unlike most of the young hikikomori of Japan, Salinger did seem to reach out to people – he was married a number of times and had two children. Time and again, these relationships tended to be fraught and often ended abruptly. Salinger’s daughter Margaret published a memoir about him and wrote, “His search . . . led him increasingly to relations in two dimensions: with his fictional Glass family, or with living ‘pen pals’ he met in letters, which lasted until meeting in person when the three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood presence of them would, with the inevitability of watching a classic tragedy unfold, invariably sow the seeds of the relationship’s undoing.”

J.D. Salinger’s version of events? “You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose.” (source)

Image from Strawberrymilkchocolate.