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Hikikomori and the Rental Sister

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  1,073 ratings  ·  186 reviews
hikikomori, n. h?kik?'mo?ri; literally pulling inward; refers to those who withdraw from society.

Inspired by the real-life Japanese social phenomenon called hikikomori and the professional “rental sisters” hired to help, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister is about an erotic relationship between Thomas, an American hikikomori, and Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant hiding fro
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Algonquin Books
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Average rating 3.47  · 
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 ·  1,073 ratings  ·  186 reviews

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Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Knowing that I am going to be separated from my physical library for a long time has thrown me into a reading frenzy. It's like Sophie's Choice around my house lately. Which books to read (or save) before I say my goodbyes? I don't know if you're guilty of this too, but I mostly hold off on reading books that I know I will love and cherish, and instead read ones that I know I'll just "like". It's like saving the best pieces of a chocolate box until the very end; reading okay books seems to make ...more
Oct 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
The concept sounds cool, yea? I’ve been interested in Hikikomori for a while now after I watched a Japanese movie that featured one as a character (I actually watched the movie mainly for Aoi Yuu) but anyway. They are interesting and sad – what provokes a person to withdraw completely from society? I thought I’d get something interesting, something substantial – a philosophical meandering of sorts that I would enjoy. Perhaps in the same tone as a Murakami book. Something that tried to look beyon ...more
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Abbreviated from its original name to omit Hikikomori, the word and lifestyle unfamiliar to many, but of a real presence in its native Japan. Hikikomori are shut ins, those who no longer wish to be part of the world. It's a fascinating thing psychologically and there isn't much about it in fiction, so I was glad to find this book. I even thought I might like it, but I didn't expect to like it quite so much. It's a quiet work of sheer beauty, mesmerizing narrative with profoundly flawed protagoni ...more
Deborah Gray
Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am in literary heaven lately. I have had the joy of reading such transcendent books that they all deserve the highest accolades, and this one is no exception.

Hikikomori is the name in Japan for a person who retreats from the world after a tragedy. In this case, Thomas and his wife live in New York and lost their young son in an instant to what was considered an unavoidable accident, but Thomas blames himself and has stayed cloistered in his small room for three years. His wife, Silke, has tri
Apr 23, 2014 marked it as abandoned
Abandoning this one around page 50. It comes with a heavy heart.

I'm extremely fascinated by the ideas of, as the jacket flap says, the "risk of intimacy" and "whether another woman can bring a husband back to his wife." I've been emotionally cheated on, been the unwitting other woman in a monogamous relationship (more than once, thank you internet), been the third party in an non-monogamous relationship, been invited to be a part of a menage a trois with a couple I am friends with (I declined b
Apr 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
You just see 'ultimate male fantasy' fulfilled in this Haruki Murakami-esque --only superficially, though--tale, and why people liked it, if they did. This remotely reminded me of another half-done and shallow work that came out a decade or so ago--Jiro Adachi's YA (--ish) novel--The Island of Bycicle.. something.. I can't even remember the title exactly. Still I clearly remember that the novel also made me barf for its male fantasy imposed upon the same kind of cardboard cutout Asian female tou ...more
Nov 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
Hikikomori means closing oneself off from the outside world in Japanese. Thomas Tessler has locked himself away in his room after the tragic death of his young son while under his care. This almost total isolation ( except for midnight mini -mart excursions) goes on for almost three years , as his wife Silke apparently goes on about her life in the rest of the house. Finally in total desperation , Silke makes one last attempt to salvage their marriage by hiring a "rental sister" Megumi. Megumi, ...more
Sep 08, 2014 rated it liked it

The bones of the story. Thomas blames himself for the accidental death of his young son, then locks himself away for 3 years in his bedroom. His beautiful wife, Silke, is forced to carry on without him, daily, nightly, begging and pleading for him to rejoin her in their life – albeit a childless existence now, irreparably wounded. After 3 years of this inadvertent, emotional abuse, Silke hires Megumi, a young, Japanese immigrant, to act as “Rental Sister,” a surrogate of sorts, in order to coax
Heather Fineisen
Oct 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have not read Hikikomori and the Rental Sister before. Anywhere. Jeff Backhaus has written something I haven't read before. Not just because this is his debut. Backhauus has created something fresh and relevant through his story of a man who has become a hikikomori after the death of his young son. As defined from, "Hikikomori literally means “withdrawal” in Japanese and is used both as a noun and as an adjective. Though there are differing opinions as to the precise nature of hikiko ...more
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
Hikikomori and the Rental Sister tells the story of a man named Thomas who has holed himself in his bedroom for 3 years. The Japanese term "hikikomori" means "pulling inward, confined", and it says on the back of the book that it's a Japanese phenomenon. His wife, Silke, hires a "rental sister" named Megumi, who's job is basically to help that the isolated person out of their room.

I bought this book off of a library sale cart, and I was so excited to read it. I'd never heard specifically of the
Afaf Finan
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written story about loss and love.
Jenna (Falling Letters)
Dec 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Originally posted 11 May 2014 on Falling Letters.


Wavering between 3 and 4 stars, I'm giving this one the benefit of the doubt as it has enough prominent 1-star reviews.

I added Hikikomori and the Rental Sister to my TBR list after stumbling across the book at the library. I can't recall why I initially added it, but I picked it up this month expecting a darkly humorous tale. The story's immediate poignancy prompted me to reread the back description - I wonder how I ever expected a black comedy
Jul 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a really strange book. A man who feels he killed his son (he was run over by a car while the father watched) locks himself into his room for three years. His wife hires a rental sister who is supposed to get him to come out of the room and back to living.

The rental sister is Japanese/Korean and her brother in Japan had locked himself away after being beaten up at school because he is half Korean. This phenomenon is called hikikomori and is common in Japan.

The rental sister is hesitant t
Leigh Anne
May 15, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh. Just...ugh.

I'm not quite sure what Backhaus was trying to do here, but it didn't work. I can live with the fact that none of these people are very likable. What bothers me is how much it reads like some guy's fantasy about what it would be like to have sex with a Japanese girl, with a flimsy plot thrown around it.

Thomas (pronounced To-MAAAHS, because of course it is) has been living in his bedroom for the past three years, much to the despair of his wife, Silke. Because apparently therapeut
Chihoe Ho
Jan 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
"Hikikomori" is a social phenomenon where individuals acutely withdraw from society and lead a solitary life within the confines of their own home. It is recognized by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in definable terms, and has such a rippling effect on those connected to hikikomoris, and on the fabric of Japanese society, that there are professionals who work towards helping such recluses out of their isolation.

Jeff Backhaus writes of a hikikomori living in New York. Thomas
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Retreating in grief and hiding to lick your wounds is not an uncommon phenomenon, but when that retreat progresses to an unhealthy isolation and can last for years, who are you indulging, and who is indulging you in your retreat from life. Just one of the several questions brought forward on the reading of this book. First I needed to check several sources to get the best feeling for a very Japanese idea that does not always translate well. Hikkomori: the closing off of oneself from the outside ...more
Jan 17, 2013 rated it liked it
This was a 3+ read for me.

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister paints a graceful portrait of individuals traumatized by grief and unhinged by guilt. Thomas Tessler was happy with his life until the death of his young son three years ago. Needing just one day to be alone with his grief turns into three years of living within himself behind the dead bolt of his room. Thomas is “hikikomori” – a Japanese phenomenon of complete social withdrawal by turning inwardly and isolating one’s self. Silke, Thomas
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
After reading lots of YA and kids stuff, which I love, it was not too bad to get into bed with a grown up book. This is an odd story. Really odd. Man loses young son and locks himself in the bedroom for 3 years. Odder yet is that his wife sticks around cooking dinner for herself and talking to him through the door. At times she's shouting, at times she's bringing home a tumble buddy to try and make him jealous enough to come out and fight for her. Apparantly, in Asian cultures, people with agoro ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it
A colleague rightly pointed out that this intriguing read is in the style of Murakami and Ishiguro: elegantly crafted prose that may still only have a limited audience. Thomas Tessler has, in response to a family tragedy, withdrawn into his room for three years. Through a local Japanese bakery, Thomas' wife comes to recognize his plight, apparently common in Japan, as requiring a particular response. She hires Megumi, a young Japanese woman grappling with her own emotional pain, to help her husb ...more
Doriana Bisegna
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
I had a hard time buying into this story. A man refuses to come out of his room due to a tragic incident that occurred in his life and his wife accepts this for three years. Not only does she accept this hermit for three years, she hires a beautiful, Japanese woman to try to lure him out of his room and become a husband again. What ensues is mind boggling, crazy, totally unbelievable and I just kept asking myself....who in their right mind would ever do that? If the story was set in Japan where ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Hikikomon and the rental Sister explore a fascinating cultural phenomenon of hikikomori. Found to be unique to Japan, a million young people, mostly male, withdraw from the world. Most do not leave their rooms. Some will roam only at night. Many live in their bedrooms for years. Yet, this hikikomori is American, and he lives in New York City.

His wife elects to bring in a ‘rental sister’ seeking to help her husband using a traditional Japanese cure. Both women can see the sadness within Thomas.
Jun 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was fascinating partly because it was so out of the realm of my experience, and partly because I thought it was very sensitively written. I found the main characters, Thomas and Megumi, full, rich and complexly wrought. (Silke, the long-suffering wife, not so much.)
I've heard of hikikomori, the Japanese phenonmenon, but it was a very abstract concept. Jeff Backhaus did a very good job of bringing it to life -- why someone like Thomas would/could retreat from the world. I suppose with t
Dec 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
This novel is about social withdrawal (hikikomori is a Japanese term referring to those who choose extreme isolation). The hikikomori in this story is an American man who retreats to his room, only sneaking out late at night to buy food. His wife hires a “rental sister” – in Japan, these outreach counselors sometimes succeed in bringing the isolated one back into the world – and their relationship forms the backbone of the story. Though I found the premise interesting, I felt that the groundwork ...more
Jul 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this debut. The pathos of the principle character explored the fragility of the human heart and mind. While the person sought to help him needed as much help herself. Great story about the human heart and the scars acquired during life - how do wounds heal and how does one navigate guilt and shame?? Backhaus teases out an answer - I agree with his conclusion
Jul 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Advance reader copy from a new author. Really pretty wonderful - a quiet narrative that is still
emotional and looks at loss, intimacy, how to place yourself in a world that sometimes hurts you.
VAguely and pleasantly erotic, at times, mostly very tender.
Emily Crowe
Sep 01, 2012 rated it liked it
I'd never heard of the hikikomori phenomenon in Japan until I was at BEA in June and the folks at Algonquin were telling me about this book on their winter list. Totally bizarre and fascinating! ...more
Sep 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Finished in less than a day...captivating read.
H.G. Gravy
After the death of his son, Thomas Tessler, in his grief and self-blame, goes into a small bedroom in his New York City apartment and refuses to come out for three years. Thomas is a hikikomori, the Japanese word for reclusive adolescents or adults who choose to withdraw from their social life, and often seek isolation and confinement.

Thomas leaves behind his wife, Silke, who tries everything in her power to help Thomas come out of his room and fails at every turn. From attempting to lure him ou
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
This entire book was just a vehicle for an Asian fetish. Here's a hot tip: there's this genre where you can just write about sexual fantasies. It's called erotica. It's literally ALL ABOUT SEX! I know, your mind is blown right now.

The title is just all kinds of inaccurate, and it drove me crazy. Hikikomori is a Japanese term to describe men, usually late 20's, who just hunker down in their rooms and do not come out. For YEARS. They live with their parents and don't interact with anyone. It's a v
Diana Fisher
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book brought me back into a quiet, insular world that I experienced living in Asia. For me, the isolation was because I chose to live where very few people spoke my language. In the book, it's something self-imposed as well, but far more dramatic. Jeff Backhaus has a way of painting a picture and drawing a scene. I loved this so much and look forward to more poetry from him. ...more
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Jeff Backhaus has worked as a cook, an art director, and a professional pilot. He has lived and worked in Korea, and now lives in New York.

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