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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Hiromi Goto Talks About ‘The Hikikomori’

[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.]

Hiromi Goto has written numerous books for both adult and younger readers. She received the James Tiptree Memorial Award for her novel, The Kappa Child . Her latest YA novel, Half World , was released with Viking US on April 1. Her website: [Photo credit: Kiely Ramos]

Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us more about the Hikkomori condition, and how this became the title of your story?

Hiromi Goto: I had read about the this condition online and in newspaper stories; it’s also fairly common in Japan– I know people who have relatives who are caught in this place. It’s a tragic condition, and, also, in terms of creative material, conceptually rich. I wonder about it on many levels, including psychologically, culturally, metaphorically. I’m not a psychologist (Jim), so I don’t want to speak about it in terms of pathology… Basically, a hikikomori is someone (often a young male) who has withdrawn from all social interactions, including family members. To me, it feels as if they are “going on strike” from other people. Given social conditions (in all societal groups) that inscribe “normative” behaviour, individuals going on strike don’t surprise me. But what is tragic is that it can become a trap, or cycle, that becomes more and more difficult to escape. Creatively, I was also taken by the word, hikikomori, because of the embedded “mori” in the term. “Mori” is also a homonym for “forest”. What if, I thought, hikikomori was not only a condition, and a person who is in that condition, but it was also a place… a forest.

CT: In your afterword, you mention “transformation” and I think that’s an apt word to describe your story. Can you elaborate more on the importance of transformation for you?

HG: It may very well be a key component in a lot of my writing…. The transformative is a moment in motion. It’s also related to time and timing. The perfect confluence of things, characters, conditions, that turns the mundane into the remarkable. Like alchemy. It can go the other way– from the humane to the monstrous…. I like to use the transformative powers “for good”…. <grin>. I’m also inspired by a long history of legends and myths that are so rich with moments of the transformative. From shape-shifting foxes in China and tanuki in Japan, to the horrific but bountiful legends of Sedna, the symbolic and fantastic elements of transformation speaks to a human desire for the magical, for change. These stories also provide a context through which these feelings and desires can be articulated and met. I also associate the transformative to a dream-like state. Anything is possible.

CT: What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

HG: Online research, conversations, interviews, books.

CT: How different is it for you to write a short story in contrast to a novel? Do you keep your YA audience in mind or is that not part of your process?

HG: I definitely consider audience when I’m writing. It’s one of the factors that will affect how a story is relayed even though it would not necessarily affect subject matter/concept. For instance, I could write a hikikomori story that was intended specifically for an adult audience. I could still have the forest, the rats, the Lady, etc. but detailing and focus objects would likely be altered. Having said that, although my recent novel, Half World is being marketed as a YA book, I also wrote it for adults who enjoy this kind of narrative (horror/fantasy) as well. I hope I won’t be judged for saying this, but I find short stories a more simpler task than writing a novel if only because I can hold an entire story in my head and view it and manipulate it, but I cannot hold an entire novel in my head– I only have fragments/scenes. (This is clearly a personal brain issue, and also speaks to my writing process.) I also think of the short story as having a narrower field. (I am not saying that it is easy to write a short story. It is not easy.)

CT: What’s the appeal of the Beastly Bride concept for you?

HG: The key ideas which drew me were that of transformation, and the beastly. I’m not so interested in brides per se. <grin> . I had also been letting the word/idea “hikikomori” simmer in the slow cooker portion of my brain, so when the opportunity came up (see, timing!), it all came together.

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