- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

TOKYO — Behind Japan’s familiar facade of ancient temples, packed commuter trains and blinding neon are more than 25,000 homeless, struggling to return to mainstream society, despite injections of cash from the government.

While the world’s second-largest economy continues to falter, their ranks continue to swell.

In the capital, Tokyo, many of the more than 6,000 homeless live along the banks of the Sumida River in the northeast.

One of them is 59-year-old Seichi Tadano, who came to Tokyo from northern Japan as an eager 15-year-old and worked in the construction industry.

In the 1960s, scores of young men flocked to the fast-developing city from rural areas for the abundance of work and good wages.

Thirty years later, those men became the first victims when Japan’s economic locomotive went off the rails. Most of the laborers had flitted from one building site to the next, with little thought for things such as national pension schemes or savings.

The average homeless person is 55, male, single and unskilled.

All this could have been avoided, according to Charles McJilton of Food Bank Japan, a nonprofit organization that provides food to homeless and people on welfare.

“The government knew it was going to have a homeless problem in the ‘80s. Anyone who wakes up and says, ‘Wow, we have homeless here [today],’ is uninformed, and if they’re government people, lying.”

Mr. Tadano has lived in his elaborate plywood and blue tarpaulin shelter along the Sumida River for five years. After an accident on a building site, he found it tougher to put in a day’s work.

He makes ends meet collecting aluminum cans from the trash for recycling, earning about $22 a night. He says that at his age there is little chance of getting a “real” job.

“I don’t blame anyone [for my situation]. It was my own doing. But I would never take a loan or handout from anybody,” he said.

For a long time, the only groups willing to help were labor unions and volunteer organizations such as the one that gave a second chance to Mr. Tadano’s former neighbor, Yoshikatsu Hashimoto.

The Asian Workers’ Network was started by six volunteers who had spent years helping homeless get by, but wanted to give them a chance of returning to a normal life.

“I felt the government and the system of help wasn’t working,” said one of the founders, Shigeko Arakawa.

The group opened a recycling shop in northeastern Tokyo and employs six former homeless men, including 57-year-old Mr. Hashimoto, who earns up to $720 a month.

As the number of homeless exploded in the 1990s, the government wavered between turning a blind eye and carrying out mass evictions.

It wasn’t until 2002 that the government introduced measures to support those on the streets, providing funding that will amount to a little more than $27 million in the coming fiscal year.

In the first phase, the government set up four support centers where homeless people can stay for up to two months while receiving job training.

But that is not necessarily a solution. “Nobody offers jobs to homeless people, even if they’ve completed a course,” said activist Shizuko Yasue. “This is a problem of the system.”

Mr. McJilton, an American, said the government has failed to comprehend the needs of those looking to break out of homelessness.

“One of the problems of the self-help centers is that they don’t have an exit strategy,” he said. “They let [the homeless] stay a few months, but then when they go to leave, who is going to be a guarantor for housing?”

Miss Yasue said she expects the situation to improve gradually, but Mr. McJilton is concerned about the younger Japanese, called furiita, who have chosen not to take career jobs.

“The day-labor unions say the furiita look a lot like the day laborers of the 1960s and ‘70s. They’re not tied into the national pension system and they work part-time jobs here and there. They could be the next generation of homeless,” he said.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide