Social class, poverty, and ethnic minorities

My inquiry into hikikomori unintentionally led me to address questions relating to social class, poverty, and ethnic minorities. In Japan, ethnic minorities are mainly made up of communities located in Hokkaido (Ainu), and Okinawa, as well as Zainichi Koreans and discriminated communities (burakumin). However, Kansai, the region in which I mainly investigated, is also a place with high numbers of burakumin and Zainichi communities. The underlying reasons are historical; the presence of burakumin in the Kansai region is the heritage of the caste system of the feudal era, and the presence of Korean residents has its roots in the colonization of Korea. The figures provided by Sugimoto Yoshio are striking; in the Kansai region, there are 2,000,000 burakumin and 400,000 Korean residents (Sugimoto

2010: 192). Note that obtaining accurate data on these issues is difficult, and the previous figure is probably overestimated. Indeed, the research institute for human rights and the release of buraku provided data 5-6 times lower (Aoki 2009: 192). Obviously, many in a hikikomori situation do not belong to these discriminated or Zainichi communities. From this point of view, one could ask: What population is more likely to ask for support? In the H. prefecture, Dr. Matsuda’s answer is clear, and is based on statistics from the guidance center: these are the populations located in places where the highest concentrations of poor, discriminated, and Zainichi communities are found.

However, a counterpoint to the preceding thoughts is that the request for psychological help is not only addressed through social assistance. The call for social assistance can convey the idea of stigmatization of people seeking help. According to this line of reasoning, one might think that the discriminated communities, already being stigmatized, would have less difficulty in seeking social assistance. This fact remains to be confirmed, but it seems clear, in the H. prefecture, that non-discriminated populations make less use of social assistance. Hikikomori and futoko are obviously present in the middle and upper classes, but my investigation focused, without me having decided it beforehand, on NPOs who are in places where there is a high concentration of poor, discriminated communities, and Zainichi. The NPO A. is an example, and my participation in NPO M. illustrates this fact in the most significant way: to accompany them as they trace their “origins” in South Korea.

The NPO P. is located on the outskirts of a town in the G. prefecture, and its name refers to the culture of prefecture D.: the place of concentration of another ethnic minority. When I met Prof. Kubo, it was part of a university event on prefecture D.’s culture. In this conference, a speaker from an NPO presented her work, highlighting that 80% of the people in her community had at least one family member who had perished during World War II. All of this data invited us to think of testimonies and trauma as they manifest themselves in the Japanese archipelago. The accounts of hikikomori subjects collected in places with a high concentration of ethnic minorities and discriminated communities naturally brought to light the most salient and constitutive elements of the identity of these populations: ostracism from society (discrimination), survival situation in poverty, memory of the hardships of history, and experiences of anxiety (Aoki 2009: 191).

My investigation of the assistance systems, the testimonies of hikikomori subjects, and the system of assistance to youths in absenteeism from school highlights a fact: Individuals who are in distress and who become “visible” are those located in poor neighborhoods with a high concentration of ethnic minorities (discriminated communities or Zainichi). Socially withdrawn individuals from the Japanese middle and upper classes are, therefore, very present, but the social statuses of these families and the lack of integration into a community make them invisible. In other words, those who are socially withdrawn from the middle and upper classes are another hidden population. In my investigation, Dr. Matsuda affirms that the large traditional families of the middle and upper class of the city of H. did not reveal their family secrets (zno himitsu). When there is a child with developmental disabilities, for example, they have family members who can take care of them. The hardships and secrets of middle and upper class families remain undisclosed, unlike poor nuclear families who can “open their secrets” to social assistance. Overcoming the tendency to keep problems within the family is precisely the intention of the leader of K2 International, and is the slogan of the NPO M., “open the family” (kazoku wo hiraku).

In other words, the upper and middle classes, that is to say, the most visible social classes to the point that it has long been considered the one and only (Sato 2000), make invisible those among them who are suffering ... and all the more so, since they exclude themselves from a central value that unites all the others: work.

 
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