Saturday, 21 June 2008

宿無し Homeless

After visiting the SquareEnix Show Case, on my way back to Shinjuku station I choose to go underground. With this decision I crossed one of the biggest homeless communities in Tokyo.

Homeless Underground City

Tokyo has incredible areas underground, you can basically walk to your destination above or underground. Big parts of this underground are never closed and thus offer shelter and some warmth for thousands of homeless people in Tokyo. Under the surface they built their own homes using umbrellas, cartons, sheets and other things. They developed their own little community and culture down there.

I crossed such settlements many times, but this time I wanted to know more about them. So I decided to talk a little to them. Having in mind later writing here about it, I decided to make some pictures on the way. Of course I politely asked, whether it was ok to take pictures. Surprisingly more than half of the people asked me please not to take pictures of them. After asking why, they answered, they don't want to be items being displayed to other peoples like "Oh look how those people life". Some people didn't mind me taking pictures of them and having the intention to bring those people close to you and make you understand them, rather than seeing them as curiosity or even looking down on them, I will share the pictures with you.

So I started talking to some of them and asked some questions that were bothering me.

mika: "I am curious, from where do you get money for food? I never saw a single homeless person begging in this city."

homeless: "Well what do you think? We are working to afford some food. It is not enough for a home, but enough to survive. Well about half the people in here are working and they will share the food with those currently unemployed."

mika: "Wow this is really interesting! So if you excuse the question, why are those currently unemployed not begging for money. I am from Germany and even in smaller towns, you see many people doing that."

homeless: "You might look down on us, I don't know, but we have our pride and honor. We are Japanese and we don't beg to others for food or money, even if our situation is dire. We might have not much left, but we still have our pride, honor and self respect."

mika: "And that is more many rich people will ever have, believe me!"

After having learned that I am from Germany, someone started to talk about World War II, where his father fought in a fighter plane and was shot down. Then they talked about Germany and Japan having had a similar fate and still being different. And then they started talking about Japan and their life:

homeless: "I think Japan is a great country, I think it is the best country in the world. If you compare it to other Asian countries, you can easily see that with our hard labor we left them far behind. Before and during the Bubble time it was us, the people in here, who made Japan what it is today. With these hands we made Japan the great country it is today and we are proud of it"

Remark: During the Bubble Economy in Japan in the 1980s the economy, stock prices and land had an enormous growth. At its peak the real estate of Tokyo was more worth than that of the entire United States Of America. Many people got incredibly rich at this time; however now it is common knowledge that the blue collar workers at the bottom never had any gain from this boost. The growth was carried on their backs and eventually broke them, but nobody ever looked down. And now here they are, the heroes of modern Japan, who have made Japan a economic super powers who is able to compete in equal states with the USA and Europe, homeless in underground shelters hidden from the eyes of the people who do not want to see them.

After talking to some group, even though having heard what they said, I wanted to give them some money. However they refused and thanked me for talking to them, for seeing them for realizing they exist.
Even more another man even gave me a new looking jacket of his as a present for talking to him. Yes I went to the homeless people and they gave ME a present. What amazing people.

he gave me the jacket he is holding as a present

Even more. There is so much potential in those people. Most of them know really useful crafting, repairing, construction skills or other, and they have proven to have quite some organizational skills maintaining their underground cities and food/job sharing. If someone would give them perspective, awaken some old dreams in them and treat them as the heroes they are, I am sure those people are able to achieve incredible things.

you can also find some smaller communities on the surface under bridges

Later that day I talked to my dear friend Eliza about them, and she is thinking about doing something with those people in her summer break. I hope it works out and I am curious about the results.

mika voice of the voiceless


Randy said...

You never cease to amaze me! It was very interesting to read this. I'm impressed with your story. To be honest it never occurred to me to talk to those people. I'm glad there are people like you that do.

Tony said...

Homeless in Tokyo is one of problems should be resolved. They have their own reasons for being as homeless. It is very difficult.

Vilwarin said...

thank you Randy for your kind words! Why don't you try talking to some homeless people yourself, next time you are in Shinjuku and have some spare time :)
It's really interesting and I know that you can make better pictures than me!

@tony thx for your comment, do you know more about? Would you share your knowledge with us?

Leslie P. Polzer said...

Once more, a very interesting post. Thank you.

I find it amazing in any case how highly those people value their country and the traditional economy, after being backstabbed by both of them.

Vilwarin said...

I think the reason is, that it was their hard work to make both Japan and Japan's economy to what it is today. If you see it like that, they are simply proud of what came out of their hard work.

Of course it would be interesting to ask if they are agnry at someone or rather who they blame for loosing their Jobs after the Bubble Economy. I hope they don't blame themselves!