Homelessness in Japan is virtually ignored and tolerated. Even the police tend to leave the homeless alone. There is a serious problem in Japanese work culture, which pretty much makes it impossible for men over 40 to get jobs. So, most of the homeless are men over 40. Generally, they are considered polite and quiet. The images below were taken in Shibuya, Tokyo. The Japanese people I was with, spoke freely with the men and there was no problem for me to take photos. You’ll see little shelters they’ve built and even little areas with knick knacks that people usually have in actual homes. There was a real sense of community and safety there. The smallest of apartments in Tokyo cost over $1000 usd and these men simply can’t afford the rent nor the key deposits. This is their last resort:
14 thoughts on “TOKYO, JAPAN: HOMELESS COMMUNITY”
Thank you for highlighting the Japanese homeless. There is something fundamentally wrong here.
Thank you for taking the time to look through the photos. There are also larger establishments throughout Tokyo and Osaka. For example, the homeless tend to set up camp at nights in the big parks and then clear away every morning so that businessmen and such can have their lunches there. Then they start all over again at night…
A small number of people have vast wealth while others exist on next to nothing. In the middle of these two extremes are the vast majority of people. I suspect most of this middle group are nearer to those that have nothing, than they are to those with vast wealth. We see footballers, pop-stars, and celebrities on fantastic wages, whilst those whose jobs are vital in society are poorly paid. I’m sad to learn of those older Japanese and wish things were different for them. Sadly, it’s all over the world and not just in Japan.
Then the business men are lucky. One of the interesting things about San Francisco is how nonchalant the homeless are about others. You had better walk around them here cos they ain’t budging for you. I love San Fran but there is a lot of homelessness here. Heart breaking.
Yes, who knew? This is a sad state of affairs.
Winters must be hard for them… Thank you for the photos.
Yes, I’d say. Luckily, winter is not too intense (normally) for Tokyo…although it has been getting worse, hasn’t it?
Here, the homeless may spend very cold winter nights in asylums or are allowed to use the subway station’s shopping zones, where it is warm. But they don’t try to keep up an improvised small housekeeping such like the cardbord houses of the homeless in Japan.
It surprises me that Japan has a homeless problem! I hope people take on your great work to make people that their are people with out homes and we should care.
Thanks for taking the time to look through the photos and comment. Yes, the more I research this, it appears that the number of homeless in all of Japan ranges anywhere from 24,000-26,000 people. In Tokyo alone, there are about 4,000-5,000. One of the problems is that the government doesn’t like to acknowledge the problem, hence, for the most part, they ignore it. No arrests, no nothing. Just ignore it. Japan views it as a sign of weakness to let this problem be made known worldwide. In the States, you can bet that a large percentage of homeless people are drug addicted, mentally ill…but, in Japan, where I’m sure that is the case to some extent, (but on a much smaller scale) the real issue is their employment structures and how it really is almost impossible for a single Japanese man 35+ years old to get a job. Culturally, they believe that a single man isn’t as responsible as a married one with a family who would show more commitment to the company, etc…these guys are kind of in a situation (since it goes without acknowledgement/aid) to not be able to get off the streets!
Such wasted talent to ignore single men over 34-40 and relegate them to homelessness. I never would have imagined. The “homes” they have created inside these shelters are impressive. How do they manage to eat? Are there “soup kitchens” or some type of public benefit that covers food and such?
Milfordstreet, we’ve seen men queueing for food, distributed late at night in different parts of Tokyo when we’ve been in the city. It seemed to be rice in a disposable bowl and a hot drink. The men queued and were sent forward to the food table in small groups. All very silent and orderly. Almost surreal. We’ve seen men preparing their beds for the night in the pedestrian tunnel from Ueno station and a village of tarpaulin and cardboard shelters under the bridges along the Sumida River. The first year we visited Japan, we saw few homeless people and it was noticeably different to the situation in UK cities. The last couple of years there has been a marked increase. It’s very sad. We’ve also seen people selling The Big Issue, which is an initiative started in the UK that gives homeless people the opportunity to earn money by selling the Big Issue magazine.
The work culture in Japan is a strange one. I found Nakane Chie’s book Japanese Society (Pelican 1973) very interesting in its sociological study of its development.
The film Tokyo Sonata that came out a few years ago is also interesting in its depiction of two married salarymen who lose their jobs but can’t tell their wives.
Wow – Thank you for the reply. It sounds very sad. Perhaps having turned 50 in the past year, I think that could be me (thugh I am no longer single). I think I’m really bothered by seeing wasted talent and whole classes of people being marginalized. I appreciate the references. I may be able to get them though our college library.
I wonder what happens to these structures during a typhoon like the one that just swept through western. Japan. My (old) apartment building was flinching and fluctuating under the pressing gales – they would have to really tie those tarps down well to prevent them flying away.