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HOMELESSNESS AROUND THE WORLD: SPOTLIGHT ON JAPAN

 

 

Despite having the third largest economy and being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, homelessness is an issue in Japan. Ironically, ageism is largely responsible for the fact that there are more homeless men than homeless women. This is based on a belief that younger married men will work harder than older or unmarried ones, as it is historically the task of the man to support his family; older men find it very difficult to find employment.

Japan’s homeless population peaked in the late 1990s as a result of the collapse of the Japanese asset price bubble which saw numerous workers being made redundant. While the numbers have been vastly reduced since the late 1990s, official figures estimate that there are around 5 000 homeless people in Tokyo alone – NGOs, however, claim the number is much higher. Most of Japan’s homeless live in informal tent communities close to rivers and parks in large cities the likes of Tokyo and Osaka.

Homelessness is a phenomenon that the Japanese find hard to deal with.  It has a powerful stigma around it in a society which places much importance on self-reliance. Authorities find it an embarrassing problem and many homeless people are ashamed of their situation and as a result try to hide away from public view.

While the general population – the majority of whom are considered to middle class – tend to ignore the homeless, most of Japan’s homeless population don’t ask for money, rather recycling garbage or looking for casual labour to try to make a living.

Welfare is available but is hard to access. Not only are civil servants frequently reluctant to provide assistance, but the potential recipient’s family is first contacted to determine whether or not they can take care of the homeless person. Shame is a dominant factor in Japan society so many homeless people refuse to allow their family to be notified.

For their part, the Japanese courts have defended the rights of homeless people to build their structures – saying that their tents cannot be dismantled by the police without a formal eviction notice.

Most recently, the advent of Typhoon Hagibis, which hit Japan severely in early October, looks set to increase the number of homeless in the country. It is estimated that 900 000 people were put under evacuation orders near the City of Tokyo, while 31 people have died, 14 are missing and 186 have been injured. Self-defence force troops were deployed and shelters have set up to house the displaced persons and clean-up operations have started, after the typhoon left a trail of destruction in its wake.

 

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These aren’t just words, neatly packed to sound helpful “in theory”; these are the very real concepts on which the global movement of positive change is built.
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By Ali Gregg