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T.H. (he doesn't want his name used) skipped high school for the first time in 1996. A few weeks later, he stopped going to school altogether. A few weeks after that, he didn't venture outside his upstairs bedroom. He slept during the day and stayed up all night, playing computer games and watching TV dramas. Every morning he dragged himself out of bed. "I told myself, 'You should go to school,' but I couldn't make myself leave." His befuddled parents tried ordering him out, but he only retreated further.
T.H.'s mother persuaded a counselor to visit her son two years ago. The first time, T.H. refused to talk. The second time he spoke through a shoji screen, a sliding partition of paper on a wood frame, patient and counselor warily eyeing each other through a golf ball-size hole. Several weeks later, T.H. finally relented and went to the counselor's recovery center. "Hikikomori want to get a job, get married, get their own home," says Tamura, "but they cannot. We need to help them go back and forth between the outside world and their inside world." Unfortunately, there is a greater burden for them now: an outside world that believes they are actual or potential murderers.