The Hikikomori Nations

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare defines hikikomori as people who refuse to leave their house and, thus, isolate themselves from society in their homes for a period exceeding six months.[2] (wikipedia)

The Hikikomori Nations:

Japan

Text from the seclusion edict of 1636:

“No Japanese ship (…), nor any native of Japan, shall presume to go out of the country; whoever acts contrary to this, shall die, and the ship with the crew and goods aboard shall be sequestered until further orders. All persons who return from abroad shall be put to death. Whoever discovers a Christian priest shall have a reward of 400 to 500 sheets of silver and for every Christian in proportion. All Namban (Portuguese and Spanish) who propagate the doctrine of the Catholics, or bear this scandalous name, shall be imprisoned in the Onra, or common jail of the town. The whole race of the Portuguese with their mothers, nurses and whatever belongs to them, shall be banished to Macao. Whoever presumes to bring a letter from abroad, or to return after he hath been banished, shall die with his family; also whoever presumes to intercede for him, shall be put to death. No nobleman nor any soldier shall be suffered to purchase anything from the foreigner.”

Obviously Japan was the original Hikikomori country. “Sakoku” or “closed country” is the term used to describe Japan’s foreign policy between 1633, when the Tokugawa shogunate decided to kick out almost all of the foreigners and outlaw Christianity, and 1853, when Commodore Perry arrived.

Oh, look, I found the relevant Polandball comic:

ojHujNhThe Sakoku period is very interesting. The Shogun basically decided to severely reduce contacts with due to concerns that the Portuguese and Spanish were destabilizing the country by importing guns and converting the peasants to Christianity. The revolt of 40,000 Catholic peasants in the Shimbara Rebellion was the final straw–the shogun had 37,000 people beheaded, Christianity was banned, and the Portuguese were driven out of the country. (The now largely empty Shimbara region was re-populated by migrants from other parts of Japan.)

Shimbara was the last major Japanese conflict until the 1860s, after the US re-introduced guns.

During the Sakoku period, Japan carried on trade with the Chinese, Koreans, Ainu, and Dutch (who were more willing than the Spaniards and Portuguese to leave their religion at the door.) I believe that internal movement within Japan was also greatly restricted, with essentially passports required to travel from place to place.

According to Wikipedia, “The [Edo] period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population*, popular enjoyment of arts and culture, recycling of materials, and sustainable forest management. It was a sustainable and self-sufficient society which was based on the principles of complete utilization of finite resources.[1]

*The population doubled during the early part of the Edo period, then leveled out.

It was illegal to leave Japan until the Meiji Restoration (1868).

North Korea is obviously the most extremely isolated country on earth today, except for North Sentinel island, which is technically part of India but no one can go there because the natives will kill you if you try. At least North Korea occasionally lets in basketball stars or students or something, though personally, I’d rather take my chances with the Sentinelese.

Ahahaha I think I am going to spend the rest of my post writing time reading Polandball comics.

Okay, I lied, I will write a real post.

So North Korea is a lot like Edo Japan, only without the peace and stability and the most people eating, though to be fair, there were famines in Edo Japan, too, it was just considered normal back then.

I don’t think I really need to go into detail about North Korea to justify its inclusion in this list.

Myanmar

According to this article I was just reading in Harvard Mag, Myanmar has fewer cell phones than North Korea. Myanmar has spent most of the post-WWII period as a military dictatorship cleaved by civil war and cut off from the rest of the world. Socialism has gifted Myanmar with one of the world’s widest income gaps and one of the lowest Human Develop Index levels–making it one of the world’s worst non-African countries. (And one of the most corrupt, ranking 171 out of 176 in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

Despite recent reforms, the country is still largely off-limits to outsiders:

Since 1992, the government has encouraged tourism in the country; however, fewer than 270,000 tourists entered the country in 2006 according to the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board.[250]

much of the country is off-limits to tourists, and interactions between foreigners and the people of Myanmar, particularly in the border regions, are subject to police scrutiny. They are not to discuss politics with foreigners, under penalty of imprisonment and, in 2001, the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board issued an order for local officials to protect tourists and limit “unnecessary contact” between foreigners and ordinary Burmese people.[254] …

According to the website Lonely Planet, getting into Myanmar is problematic: “No bus or train service connects Myanmar with another country, nor can you travel by car or motorcycle across the border – you must walk across.”, and states that, “It is not possible for foreigners to go to/from Myanmar by sea or river.”[255] There are a small number of border crossings that allow the passage of private vehicles, such as the border between Ruili (China) to Mu-se, …

In regards to communications infrastructure, Myanmar is the last ranked Asian country in the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index (NRI) – an indicator for determining the development level of a country’s information and communication technologies. With 148 countries reported on, Myanmar ranked number 146 overall in the 2014 NRI ranking.[340] No data is currently available for previous years.

Bhutan

Isolationist Butan couldn’t stand in starker contrast to Myanmar. Sure, it’s almost impossible to immigrate to Bhutan, (unless you are Indian,) but if you do manage to get in, they probably won’t kill you!

A tiny country at the top of the Himalayas, Bhutan has dispensed with this “GDP” concept and instead claims to be trying to maximize “Gross National Happiness.” Bhutan has so far resisted the siren call of “modernization,” opting instead to try to retain its traditional culture. The government only allowed TV into the country in 1999 (“In his speech, the King said that television was a critical step to the modernisation of Bhutan as well as a major contributor to the country’s gross national happiness … but warned that the “misuse” of television could erode traditional Bhutanese values.)

Last time I checked, it cost $250 a day to visit Bhutan, and it is the only country I know of that has completely banned smoking.

Nepal?

Nepal has historically been isolated,due to being on top of the Himalayas, but it has a lot of tourists these days. I don’t know how open the country is otherwise.

Tibet: See Nepal

North Sentinel Island

North Sentinel Island, part of the Andaman Island chain, is technically owned by India, but anyone who tries to set foot on it gets poked full of holes by the natives, so no one goes there.

China?

Okay, I now China has historically been way more open to trade and contact with other countries than everyone else on this list. But I got to thinking: why didn’t China discover Australia?

I mean, it’s not that far away, and there isn’t that much open ocean to cross–it’s mostly island hopping. Sure, PNG seems a bit inhospitable and full of cannibals, but Australia, from what I hear, is a pretty nice place. So why were the Dutch and the Brits the first folks to actually record Australia on their maps? The Chinese seem to have had a pretty decent navy. (I have a vague memory of having read about China having sent its navy out on an expedition that reached Africa, came back and never went out again.)

China also has a great big wall on its northern border (but if you had the Mongols on your northern border, you’d have a great big wall, too.)

 

What about Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia? Do any of them qualify?

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14 thoughts on “The Hikikomori Nations

  1. The Chinese explorer your thinking of is Zheng He and they’ve found a steele from his fleet in Sri Lanka. Functionally though he never really went where Chinese traders hadn’t gone before and the voyages were more show the flag, than commercial. The voyages stopped and the fleet destroyed after his patron the Yongle emperor died.Honestly be careful with any sources you read about him and his voyages, they tend to have issues.

    Also remember that the Chinese (even centuries after Zheng He’s fleet was destroyed) weren’t even the first to colonise Taiwan, that honour belongs to the Dutch. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) colonised the local Austronesian tribes and repulsed the Spanish, eventually importing Chinese labourers. The Dutch lost Taiwan when the Ming dynasty fell and Ming loyalists decided to flee to Taiwan, their armies overwhelming the Dutch. The Qing eventually decided to end the former reigme outpost and over time allowed immigration and enough ethnic Chinese migrated for it to be majority Chinese.

    Also I guess Cambodia was pretty isolationist during the Khmer Rouge.

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  2. Nepal shouldn’t be on the list. They take in a LOT of foreigners: Himalaya climbers, hippies, NGOs, people from India fleeing the heat. If you’re looking for hermit-kingdoms in Asia try some of those Central Asian turkestans – Turkmenistan used to be infamous. And since you counted Tibet then you should definitely include the Northwest Frontier in Pakistan.

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  3. Edo Japan is an excellent experiment for what total isolation can do to a country.
    On the surface it looks pretty good. War virtually ceased for more than two centuries. The long peace allowed culture to flourish and for investment in roads, water mills and other preexisting technologies.
    On the other hand, would you want to live there? Most people were feudal peasants. They had to live in the same village their whole lives unless they were forced to move somewhere else. They could be chopped up by the samurai at any moment, for any reason or no reason at all. I’ve seen studies (outlined in a Japanese science museum, would you believe) that around 98% of Japanese carry a cowardly gene but fewer than 40% of Caucasians have it. Presumably this is because if anyone proudly stood up for himself he got the old chop chop in short order.
    At a Japanese museum of relocated, historical houses I saw the typical diet of a middle class family. Rice, miso soup and pickles. Sometimes some other grains or root vegetables. Every day. That’s why the people were tiny.
    At the beginning of the Edo period Japan led the world in firearms technology. By the end of it guns had fallen into disuse and the samurai still used katana. Europe and America had totally overtaken them in this and probably every other technology. The Meiji rulers recognized this and started one of the most remarkable, and swift, modernization programs in history. And we know what happened next.
    So isolation seems like fun for a while but eventually leads to stagnation. A modern state that doesn’t want to be overrun needs strong diplomacy, trade, research collaboration, vising experts and scholars, and at least a little immigration of the best and the brightest that they can attract.
    As we can see in some other places, the above conditions are necessary, not sufficient, and we certainly don’t want too much of a good thing.

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  4. I read somewhere that Asian people developed this inward and isolationist mentality as a defence against diseases brought by foreigners. Do we have any evidence that epidemics were more severe in Asia rather than in Europe?
    Ps. That is wrong. Samurai didn’t kill anyone on the spot when they wanted.

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    • Thanks for the information.

      I don’t know about diseases brought by foreigners, but certainly Asians are very clean (the ones I’ve met, anyway,) and try not to get sick. (Thus the pictures of Asians riding the subway with facial masks to prevent themselves from getting sick.) This may just be a side effect of having achieved high levels of population density relatively early–dense populations spread diseases more easily, so it makes sense to develop cultural norms (or personalities) that help you avoid disease.

      Bubonic plague killed a whole bunch of people in China and India in the early 1900s/late 1800s, I think, but I don’t recall it being a big deal in Japan.

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