Come join the Room without leaving your own.

Although it’s not as much in the headlines as it used to be, the problem of people who refuse to leave the confines of their own home, known as “hikkikomori,” continues. It’s a problem that only gets worse with time too, as the parents who support them age and lose the ability to do so, or worse.

One group committed to finding ways to readjust these people to society is JACFA in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture. Their mission is not an easy one, however, and according to JACFA about 80 percent of people who contact them are the parents of hikkikomori rather than the people themselves. And even in those cases meetings are incredibly hard to set up, with some consultations taking place on opposite ends of a closed door.

It stands to reason, considering the issue at hand, so JACFA tried a different approach and set up the Fukuoka Virtual Support Room, known as “Room” for short. As you can tell by the name, this is a support center that exists virtually in the metaverse-like platform SecondLife, with everyone taking on an avatar of their choosing.

▼ A promotional video for the Fukuoka Virtual Support Room

It was a totally new undertaking, and the group wasn’t really sure if people would respond to it or not. However, not only did hikkikomori join, but JACFA was surprised by just how well they began to interact when using a virtual alter ego.

As a trial run of the Room, on 13 July, an “exchange meeting” was held and 20 staff and hikikomori virtually attended. Normally reclusive people were suddenly talking to staff voluntarily and engaged in self-introductions with nicknames and activities such as quizzes. The young guests to the Room also shared their impressions of it, such as “I could be relaxed as an avatar,” and “I was able to talk more than with people face-to-face.”

Granted, this is still a far cry from re-entering society, but as a tool the Room not only facilitated communication between support staff and hikkikomori, it accelerated it. By opening up the lines of communication, more work can be done to bring these people out of their homes.

Also, education and training can also be held on the Metaverse platform, assisting JACFA in their end goal of getting these people employment so they can become self-sufficient. Based on the results of trial events such as this, they hope to have a full program in place by next year.

Source: Fukuoka Prefecture, Nishi Nippon Shimbun
Top image: YouTube/特定非営利活動法人JACFA
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