Millions across the world suffer from various types of social phobia. In Japan, over 1.5 million people suffer from a special type of social anxiety disorder known as "hikikomori," where those afflicted seclude themselves from society, often remaining indoors and isolated for many years.
Recognizing this growing societal problem, in 2008 Samsung Japan decided to get involved. The company’s involvement, however, did not revolve around electronics or ground breaking technology. Instead, the central element was a very personal connection with man’s best friend: a dog.
Together with the Guide Dog & Service Dogs Association of Japan, Samsung opened the Asunaro School in Yokohama in May of that year. The school provides an opportunity for people, who have withdrawn from social life, to once again build trust and relationships with others. To do this, the program gives each student the responsibility of training abandoned canines to assist the deaf and hearing impaired as hearing dogs.
Meet Shiraishi and his best pal, Harmony.
During Shiraishi’s senior year of college he found himself more and more depressed. Suddenly and with little reason, the excitement and joy once felt during each day of life was quickly fleeting. Feeling a growing sense of disappointment in himself and his inability to find personal success, Shiraishi turned to the virtual world of games as an escape. After four full years of self-imposed isolation, Shiraishi sought help through the Asunaro School’s program with the urging of his very worried father.
Isn’t Harmony cute?
Abandoned on the streets of Japan, Harmony, a young Shih Tzu dog, was adopted by the Asunaro School. Over the next six months, it would be Shiraishi’s job to bring Harmony from a stray canine to a fully trained hearing dog.
From the start, the task proved to be about as hard as one would imagine. As any dog owner knows, rewarding man’s best friend with treats can only go so far. With no formal knowledge of how to train a dog, Shiraishi struggled at first. Yet, he was determined to stay with it. Month by month, Harmony slowly began to pick up the basic skills. As Harmony’s skills grew, so too did Shiraishi’s self-esteem. “I grew together with Harmony,” Shiraishi says.
After a year of training at the Asunaro School, Shiraishi exited in 2009 as the school’s first graduate. Since then, Shiraishi has worked at a senior citizens center in Yokohama, bringing joy and much-needed help to the elderly as a friendly caregiver.
Today, he’s thankful for a new chapter in his rejuvenated life, but especially for the friendship and personal gratitude he receives from the elderly center’s residents.
Since the school’s inception in 2008, Asunaro has had 18 graduates. Samsung Japan continues to sponsor the school, donating nearly half a million dollars each year.