I’m a psychiatrist by profession and, over the course of my career, I have dealt with many people who have strange and unusual problems. However, one case, in particular, disturbed me more than any other.
There was a family of three who lived next door to me. They were a married couple in their 60s and they had a son who was about 30 years old. The son was what we call in Japan a “hikikomori”. Somebody who is introverted, reclusive and isolated. Someone who has withdrawn from social contact.
We never saw the son. People who are hikikomori usually lock themselves away in their rooms and avoid others. I didn’t hear about his condition directly from his parents. I assumed they didn’t want to discuss it. In Japan, people are very concerned about appearances and having a son who is hikikomori is an embarrassment.
As the days passed, their son went out less and less. Eventually, he never came out of the house at all. Every night, from his bedroom window, the furious voice of his mother could be heard screaming and shouting at him. Whenever I met the poor woman, she smiled and said hello, but the strain was showing in her face. She became pale and haggard.
It had been almost six years since anyone had seen the son. One day, the father knocked on my door and asked me to come to his house. He knew I was a psychiatrist and since we were neighbors, I decided to do what I could to help the family.
When we got to the front door, the mother was there waiting for us. She led me upstairs to her son’s room.
She banged on the door with her fist and shouted, “We’re coming in!”
Then, she burst into the room and shrieked, “Are you going to sleep forever? Get up, you lazy good-for-nothing!”
Before I knew what was happening, she grabbed a golf club and started beating the sleeping figure under the covers. For a moment, I was struck dumb as she reigned down blow after blow. Then, I sprang into action, grabbing the golf club and wrestling her out of the room.
I hurried back inside to check on her son’s injuries, but when I pulled back the bed covers, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Lying beneath the sheets was a mummified corpse.
I stood there in absolute astonishment, staring at the pile of bones and leathery old skin.
The father approached me, hanging his head in shame.
“It was my wife that I wanted you to see,” he said. “This has been going on for years. I can’t take it anymore…”