On the surface, Japan, despite its well documented, and now worsened, economic woes, still appears very wealthy; a place where lots of people continue to enjoy the rewards of those hard-working, bubble creating, businessmen and worker bees.
Dig a little deeper, however, and several very different layers of society can be seen, with a large number of those at the very bottom of the pile, in Tokyo at least, living in a part of the city once called Sanya, but which is now merely a section of Taito-ku. An area where incredibly grim-looking rooming houses abound, a large number of shops are boarded up — particularly in the wretched smelling shotengai — and those that are open for business have noticeably large stocks of instant noodles for sale.
Frequented by mostly day labourers, in what I believe is the biggest such district outside Osaka’s Kamagasaki, it’s hard to say what the population is, especially as it must be a very transient one, but what is for certain is that many of the men are of a certain age, and have a certain look.
Along with a life that appears to involve lots of wandering about.
Plus waiting, whether it be for work, washing or simply a way out.
Although as far as the latter is concerned, the opportunities must be very few and far between. The only real option for any kind of escape, at least when there’s a bit of money about, understandably coming through booze; bought and consumed where they are feasibly only a day or two away from — the street.
Interesting. This is new to me. The top photo is excellent. Good stuff.
Thanks. It’s an aspect of Tokyo, and indeed Japan, that sadly doesn’t get anywhere near enough coverage…
Are these guys homeless then? It seems that the homeless are largely ignored in Japan. Going through any of the the large stations at night you normally see one or two (sometimes huge groups). It’s a shame that more isn’t done about them. But as for the post brilliant pictures capturing a side of Japan many don’t see
Cheers. I have no idea. Lots of the rooming houses in the area have day rates, so my guess is that when they have some money/work, they have a roof over their heads, but at other times, they don’t. Despite sort of knowing what to expect, the place really shocked me. Incredibly depressing to see. And like you say, nothing much is done, or even said, about the problem.
Nowadays the majority of men in San’ya are not homeless. They are former day labourers on welfare and stay in cheap lodges (usually the very older and wooden buildings – to the side of San’ya dominated by yakuza). Although they charge by day, the welfare recipients usually pay monthly the lodge as a “rent”. The homeless men usually stay in Iroha Arcade and sleep in tents. Most of the homeless people in Tokyo are concentrated in Ueno, Shinjuku, Yoyogi Park and along the Sumida River.
Ah – great photos, by the way!
I spy someone having a jimmy riddle in the last picture.
hehehe… thnx for pointing that one out… I think I preferred not noticing. Seriously though, the homeless cities in Japan are set to only get bigger… though that’s a slightly different blog for another time perhaps. It’s good to remind people that there are many different faces to Japan, and they aren’t all kawaii…
He was indeed Paul. The street was a bar, and toilet.
Totally agree Ben. The number of homeless is increasing. A situation I can only see getting worse. And yet it’s one that gets very little coverage.
Not to be too dryly academic about it all, but once the population bulge is through the python, Japan will actually see less homelessness and, I sunnily (if foolishly) believe that Japan will be better off in 25 years time than the U.S. , most of Latin American and a number of Asian countries as its population declines.
These photos are very nice! Black and white photography (for me) means ART! An art that shouldn’t ever die, so keep posting this kind of photos cause maybe if we spread this to the world maybe we will have more photography passionated people.
Thanks David. Considering the nature of the topic, black and white was the only way to go.
In the United States, homelessness abounds in every city. And every city has its own way of coping. If my office had a function and had leftover food, I would wander the streets handing it out. People took it without question of where it came from or what was in it. I would even leave food next to people who had fallen asleep or passed out. A small contribution to a very big, complex problem. Money alone doesn’t fix it. Even at our best economic times, homelessness was a huge problem. Compassion and seeing that these are regular people with a heavy and varied problems seems to work the best. Maybe Japan will show the world a better way to deal with it?
That’s very thoughtful of you Linette, and like you say, compassion is surely key. Sadly something that seems to be lacking here. The growing homeless problem just seems to be ignored. As are the homeless themselves…
Have you read “Sanya Blues”? Great study and accounting of the semi-homeless/laborer underclass in Tokyo and Japan.
Thanks Jeffrey. I wasn’t until it was mentioned on Twitter yesterday. Definitely have to get hold of a copy.