Photo/IllutrationA meeting is held to tackle “hikikomori” issues. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Two recent cases of extreme violence have exacerbated the anguish of a 71-year-old woman in Tokyo whose daughter has been a social recluse for about 30 years.

“These incidents strike too close to home for me,” said the woman, who lives in the same house as her “hikikomori” child but has not spoken to her for five years.

The knifing rampage in Kawasaki and the stabbing death of the son of a former top government bureaucrat have worsened the situation for middle-age recluses and their parents who were already struggling to deal with what is often a secret problem.

Hikikomori say they now feel further alienated from society as mischaracterizations have spread since the attacks.

And for some parents like the Tokyo woman, the two crimes triggered long-held fears that their hikikomori children might end up making headlines.

The woman’s daughter in her 40s, who has stayed at home since she stopped attending school, once brandished a kitchen knife and tried to kill herself. The mother said she was too scared to tell anybody about the incident.

“I understand that I should not be ashamed of my daughter. I know that I should not keep it secret,” the mother said. “But I do all the time because I’m afraid my daughter will cause trouble outside the home. I have been depressed, hating myself.”

Ryuichi Iwasaki, 51, was also described as a recluse living in his relatives’ house in Kawasaki. He had been out of work for many years.

But on May 28, he left the house in the morning and stabbed 19 people, including 17 elementary school children, at a bus stop in the city’s Tama Ward, according to police.

Two people died, and Iwasaki killed himself after the rampage, police said.

The Tokyo woman says she feels she cannot tell anyone about her fears that her daughter might similarly commit violence outside the home.

The mother said that she herself is suffering from depression, and that her husband has turned his back to the problem with their daughter.

“I will not live forever,” the mother said. “I know that I can’t keep procrastinating, but I am too broken down to confide in anyone.”

Otochika Ichikawa, director of Rakunokai Lila, a nonprofit organization that supports social recluses and their families in Tokyo’s Sugamo district, said he has received nonstop phone calls since the Kawasaki attack.

He said most of the calls are from parents in their 60s and 70s who want advice on how to deal with their middle-age shut-in children.

“I’m worried that my child will yell out and cause trouble outside the home,” one parent said.

“It’s a social embarrassment,” another said.

Ichikawa, 72, whose daughter used to be a hikikomori, said social recluses in their 40s and 50s have also been calling his NGO.

“I feel as if I’m exposed to the public gaze due to the Kawasaki incident. I can never leave home now,” one of them said.

“Parents have always had a deep sense of concern about their hikikomori children,” Ichikawa said. “But the Kawasaki attack intensified the anxiety of those shut-ins, and their anxiety might have spread to the parents.”

Experts encourage parents to seek consultations with government health officials, something that Hideaki Kumazawa apparently never did concerning his 44-year-old son, Eiichiro.

Kumazawa, a 76-year-old former administrative vice minister at the agriculture ministry, is accused of murdering his son at their home in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward on June 1.

According to investigators, Kumazawa said Eiichiro became irritated by noise coming from an elementary school next to the house in the morning and said he would kill the children.

The suspect, reminded of the Kawasaki rampage, said he felt driven to prevent Eiichiro’s anger from being directed toward children, so he repeatedly stabbed and killed his son, the sources said.

The father has described his son as shut-in who was violent since junior high school, the sources said.

It is not uncommon for elderly parents to feel hesitant to send out an SOS to the public, according to Teruo Miyanishi, a professor emeritus at Wakayama University who has provided support to people struggling with hikikomori issues.

Miyanishi said many parents tend to think, “If only I swallow the bitter pill and endure.” But this only causes delays in seeking advice.

Tamaki Saito, a psychiatrist at the University of Tsukuba, has urged parents to take precautions when soliciting help from outside.

“I understand that parents are desperate for any help, but please don’t fall back on certain support organizations that are abusive.”

Saito said some private organizations have tried to prey on parents’ fears by saying such things as, “What would you do if your child become a phantom killer?”

Some organizations have come to the homes at the request of parents, broken into the shut-ins’ rooms, and carted them off to a facility. Then the parents receive the bill.

Saito said he has received consultations from families troubled by such tactics.

“Such experiences will hurt the children’s dignity and traumatize them. The child will resent the parents, feeling that ‘they have sold me out.’ That will destroy the parent-child relationship and likely prolong the problem,” he said.

A growing number of comments made on social media are expressing sympathy with Kumazawa’s decision to kill his troubled son.

But that is the wrong message that society should be sending to parents like Kumazawa, according to Teppei Sekimizu, an associate professor of sociology at Rissho University.

“It is OK to ask for more help. That’s the message that the society should tell to these parents,” Sekimizu said. “What we need to do is to create more places for them outside their homes and divide up family functions.”

Sekimizu pointed out that many people may feel that providing support for hikikomori is the family’s responsibility, not the central government’s job.

In reality, Sekimizu said, “Parents and siblings are screaming under crushing pressure, thinking they have to do something, and they are reaching the breaking point.”

KHJ Zenkoku Hikikomori Kazokukai Rengokai (KHJ national federation of groups of families of hikikomori) said elderly parents are seeking consultations about their reclusive children’s domestic abuse and yelling about noise in their neighborhoods.

However, the organization said that it rarely hears from parents about violence committed by their children outside the home.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Cabinet Office, an estimated 613,000 people between 40 and 64 years of age, predominantly men, are withdrawn from society.

The results highlight the “8050 problem,” or in some cases the “7040 problem,” in which parents in their 70s and 80s are forced to take care of their unmarried children in their 40s and 50s within the same household, leading both to social isolation.

Rika Ueda, the 47-year-old director of KHJ who used to be a social recluse, said hikikomori are “no longer an anomaly.”

“Families should not become saddled with the problem by themselves,” Ueda said. “Even if they are not ready to talk, I want them to attend a self-help group meeting just to listen to other families who have been in a similar situation, and then break out of the negative cycle for even just a bit.”