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The other faces of Tokyo January 18, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Society.

Adamu at Mutant Frog shows us an aerial photograph (courtesy of Google Maps) of Nishinari Park in Osaka, home to a robust community of homeless people in Osaka.

He goes on to say:

The homeless culture is one of the unique aspects of Osaka that gives the city some flavor, and it’s too bad that city officials can’t recognize it as such.

Just to point out that Osaka doesn’t have a monopoly of homeless people, a quick alternative tour of Tokyo:

Fancy living in the middle of a wood which comprises part of 133 acres of parkland in the middle of Tokyo? Within walking distance to both Shinjuku and Shibuya! If you do, this may be for you.

Location: south west corner of Yoyogi Park, between Shibuya and Shinjuku, and just around the corner from some very exclusive residential neighbourhoods in Shibuya Ward. (including the apartment where that 32 year old wife killed her 30 year old husband. She then cut him up and dumped his headless upper torso in Shinjuku, his lower limbs just around the corner from home, and buried his head in a park in Machida, taking his head (I assume in a non-transparent bag of some sort) with her on an Odakyu-line train.

Or perhaps you would prefer a riverside location?

Location: Sumida River, by Kototoi Bridge. In fact, along the whole stretch of the river from Shirahige Bridge-Komagata Bridge-Azuma Bridge-Kototoi Bridge-Sakura Bridge-Umaya Bridge, a distance of about 5km or so, you can see a row of makeshift homes pretty much all the way. (just try scrolling along the river. Many of the blue sheet tents on the east side are obscured by the elevated highway (route 6) running along the east bank)

That is apart from the area around Sakura Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge built allegedly to connect the two parts of Sumida Parks on each bank – belonging to Sumida Ward (which also seems to have a healthy population of tents on the east) and Taito Ward on the west.

Sakura Bridge apparently cost JPY2.83Billion to build (back in 1985)……

That is about $25M at today’s exchange rates, and a little over $10M at 1985 exchange rates – don’t ask me how much that is in today’s money, but it sure sounds like a lot of money for a pedestrian footbridge to connect two parks, especially when there is another bridge just a few hundred yards downstream and the bridge doesn’t connect to the park on the Sumida Ward side… (perversely, the downstream bridge – Kototoi Bridge, does connect the two parks, and existed a good 60 years before Sakura Bridge was built. Pork Barrel project, anyone?)

Here’s another prime location, with a view of the Shinjuku skyscrapers.

It seems like the homeless have recongregated in Shinjuku Central Park, some of them in plain view from above (though most seem to prefer living under the trees). The population was driven out a few years ago, the rumour was that our great Governor didn’t want to see blue plastic sheeting when he looked down from his nice office in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices (the two square buildings on the bottom right). – The fact the blue tents are back in force would seem to suggest that the rumours that Ishihara doesn’t spend much time in his office these days may be true.

He certainly isn’t known for his sympathetic attitude towards the homeless – he seems to think they are all lazy good-for-nothing bums. It’s alright when you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, eh. (or in his case, maybe it was somewhere else. You can never quite tell which orifice he decides to speak from on any given occasion)


1. Adamu - January 18, 2007

Awesome. Perhaps “unique” was the wrong word. Either way, homeless people in Japan are great, especially in Osaka where I have encountered them, and it pains me to see them abused whether it’s by snotnosed kids or the Osaka government.

2. homeyra - January 18, 2007

Very interesting post and interesting blog. I wish to add it to my blogroll if you don’t mind.

3. Durf - January 19, 2007

Edward Fowler’s San’ya Blues is an excellent book on day laborers in Japan that sheds light on the lives these people lead.

4. Gaijin Biker - January 24, 2007

Instead of romanticizing the lives of squatters in public parks, let’s face facts: the blue tent communities are a sign that Japan is lazily ignoring the plight of its homeless. They deserve a government that provides adequate shelters. And the rest of us deserve to enjoy public parks free from the eyesore (and nose-sore) of a permanent blue tent camp.

5. fukumimi - January 24, 2007

I don’t think there is anything romantic about living on the streets or under a makeshift tent. My comments were intended as satire, reflecting the apparently widely held view in Japan that homelessness is some sort of lifestyle choice. For 90% of them, that is not the case.

The vast majority of homeless are over 50. Most of them are ex-construction industry labourers. This is the workforce that built up the Japanese “miracle” with their hands. Many now have disabilities (many work related) and many suffer from psychological illness. I’m sure many people would get depression or turn to substance abuse if they were used and discarded in the fashion many of these people appear to have experienced.

As for homeless shelters, NIMBY is a strong and widely held opinion of most people. Looking back, in Tokyo, we had the 23 wards get together and shipped off the homeless in “temporary” housing in Sanya district (just north of Asakusa) with the promise that they would address housing issues locally and when the infrastructure was ready, the homeless would be welcomed back. Of course, once they were shipped out, that was that, and little has been done since.

Japan (both its citizens and the government) need to understand the reality of the homeless problem. Japanese have been slow in evolving their understanding and perception of psychological illness. The media and people in positions of power have been willing to take a populist line and portray these victims of society as lazy bums. It is institutional bullying of the most disgusting sort.

PM Abe is harping on about 再チャレンジ. If anyone deserves a second chance at life, it is these people. Most of the homeless have an appetite for work, but the ageist employment environment and lack of vocational training gives these people no chance.

6. Paulo - July 19, 2009

I’m a squatter in London, but of course the law makes it easier to squat in proper houses. I’ve found that it ain’t about romanticising the squatter life. It can be shit being chucked out of places, then having to look at electrics, fix infrastructure all over again. However I do not see why people have to feel bad and look miserable to get recognition for squatter’s problems, especially families and those older ones who seem to be on a mission to end their days on a permanent tap of alcohol. Squatters in London connect more than other people through cheap parties, social activities and a support network for problems one might have. Why? Because we were pushed to each other by the very nature of society excluding those who do not conform. That’s why its romanticised. Because in the shit that is life, we don’t really interact with each other on a large scale as much, so we don’t balance the negative with the postitive of being with other people. Life is still shit for a squatter as with anyone else, the only difference is that through this ‘romanticised’ community, we balance it.

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