Murderers on the lam, police abuse-incited riots all part of life for Osaka’s day laborers

By Luke Mahoney, grape Japan

The streets of Osaka can be rough. You'd be forgiven for not noticing upon first glance. Japan itself is an incredibly safe nation, especially when compared to the West. The murder rate is about 1/5th the American rate, and violent crimes, in general, are exceptionally rare. Likewise, city streets are mostly clean and well lit. Even when walking down side allies late at night, residents are justifiably unconcerned.

In Osaka, the glitz and glam of downtown Umeda or the shopping areas of Namba are so orderly that its hard to imagine anything remotely amiss. Nevertheless, a few stations away, in the underbelly of the Tennoji area, is a world far removed from the capital excesses of Osaka's commercial centers.

Look closely enough, and areas like Nishinari-Ku and Shinsekai seem oddly third-world. In Nishinari alone, one of the most infamous doyagai ドヤ街 flophouse districts in Japan, there are several thousand homeless individuals and hundreds living in makeshift tents. The fortunate among them rent lodging daily. Flophouses are numerous throughout the district. Located next to the train tracks, sparse rooms go for as little as 1,000 yen per night.

Sadly, homeless residents in this area lead particularly hard lives. For whatever reason, they have fallen through the social safety nets of the broader society—many consort with temp agencies that align them with odd jobs daily. Yet, the conditions are often brutal. Indeed, the daily laborers of Osaka's slums are enduring tragic life circumstances.

Black Companies

Like many Western nations, the income gap is increasing in Japan. As the disparity between the have's and the have-not's reaches historic proportions, an increasing number of low-skilled and disenfranchised laborers are falling themselves without regular employment.

The Huffington Post interviewed one such worker. Yusuke, a 34-year-old day laborer, related the details of his day-to-day experience to the online publication. In the recent past, Yusuke says he has worked as a courier driver, a warehouse sorter, and a bar and grill waiter. Such a plethora of titles is typical of hiyatoi haken 日雇い派遣, temp workers, who primarily live hand-to-mouth in the world's third-largest economy.

"I've been working with many black companies," Yusuke admits. In Japan, a "black company" is an exploitative business with sweatshop-like conditions for employees. Typically such employers hire numerous young and vulnerable employers. There, they are forced to work grueling hours for little pay. "Service overtime," a term indicating unpaid forced overtime, is common across this underregulated industry. Sadly, cases of karoshi, death by overwork, are not uncommon.

Like other exploitative working conditions in Japan, the dispatch of day employment is technically illegal. However, historically weak economic conditions and uncertain employment opportunities are creating cut-throat competition in some labor markets. Many day laborer gigs also bar female employees, a practice outlawed by gender discrimination laws.

According to Yusuke, temp gigs are easy enough to find. Interested workers search online and apply to relevant postings. After successful employment, workers are then situated with back alley temp agencies that ensure a steady flow of work. While many posted jobs pay in the area of 5,000-10,000 yen, this basic salary is enough to eat and afford a nightly stay in a flophouse.

Violent uprisings

A broken social safety net and exploitative labor conditions are a volatile mix. Unsurprisingly, Nishinari has witnessed several riots throughout its storied history.

These conflicts typically revolved around the perceived injustices and sleights experienced by the community. In 1961, chaos erupted after an elderly day laborer was involved in a traffic accident. The man's body was left-for-dead in the city streets for an extended period following the incident inciting discontent.

More recently, a violent riot involving 1,500 rampaging laborers and youth demonstrators developed in response to police corruption. In 2008, a six-day protest developed during the 34th G8 summit in Tokyo. The incident was in response to the alleged torture of a laborer by police.

Violent footage of the 1990 riot is available online. Be forewarned; it may be disturbing to some.

While more recent riots have not taken place, violent crime is escalating throughout the slum. Numerous incidents involve flophouses, where police have found the remains of young women on several occasions. Many blamed politically-motivated deregulation of the industry, but such a relationship is not overtly apparent. Nishinari is renowned for its red-light district, and serial killers on the lam have been known to assimilate amongst day laborers.

Gentrification and Hiyatoi Reiko, the Virtual Day Laborer

Despite its issues, the region has been experiencing and odd-type of gentrification in recent years. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Japan had been experiencing unprecedented levels of tourism. With hotels in short supply, historically cheap developments throughout Nishinari have been turned into foreigner-friendly lodgings.

Indeed, police and local businesses have spent considerable effort to clean up the area. Many security measures were put in place while the district experienced a spree of renovations. With new restaurants opening, and live venues popping up, visitors can hardly imagine the area's seedy history.

YouTuber Hiyatoi Reiko has "embraced" the changes. This avatar guide leads viewers through various aspects of the slum while showing backpackers how to get on the Nishinari way. Hiyatoi has videos highlighting the best street foods and tucked-away cafes.

Yet, she doesn't hide the dark history of Nishinari. Several of her videos focus on the tragic circumstances that locals continue to endure.

Read more stories from grape Japan.

-- World’s top Virtual Youtuber Kizuna AI is getting her own company

-- Watch slapstick YouTuber Hikakin keep a straight face interviewing Tokyo governor Koike

-- Teleworking mum accidentally uses polite language on her kids and slang on her boss!

© grape Japan

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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I've always seen major cities as a hub for bad vibes, it doesn't matter which country it is. The collection of a large number of people in a small area, along with all the toxicity of living in a boxed-in, fast-paced and materialistic-driven life will just show you how much of a dystopia city life can be behind all that blinding glamor

7 ( +7 / -0 )

the region has been experiencing and odd-type of gentrification in recent years.

Indeed, police and local businesses have spent considerable effort to clean up the area... while the district experienced a spree of renovations.

Edward Fowler wrote San'ya Blues, about the grim lives of day labourers and down and outs in the San'ya district of Tokyo, more than 20 years ago. Nishinari is the Osaka equivalent of San'ya, and it looks like for many things haven't improved. You can clean up the area, try to gentrify it, whatever, but if you don't come up with a solution for the real underlying societal problems that lead people to fall into these holes and never climb out again, you're getting nowhere.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I sincerely hope the folks that see Japan as some paradise and everyone in harmony take a good look and read this article!

Japan is the same as any other country in the world! It"s got it's good points and bad points, the same as anywhere else.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

On a smaller scale in Tokyo you have Minami-Senju. The coronavirus is hitting the most vulnerable communties the hardest. While the government is prioritizing wastefully massive schemes to keep mega-corps and financials afloat.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

"Japan is the same as any other country in the world"

It certainly isn't; it's BETTER than a lot of them.

If you're in doubt all you need doing is leave the Japan that's "same as any country". Do it permanently if it's the same.

You'll soon find our what the reality is.

And I'm only "comparing" Japan with European countries.

In order to "tel"l us how violent Japan is, the author has to resort to incidents that happened before I was born (1961) and then when I was still a little kid (1990).


-8 ( +8 / -16 )

Agreed Peeping Tom

Japan is definitely safer. I live in downtown Namba and often run these days during the state of emergency. All these above mentioned places, a young lady can jog through in the day. I can definitely enter the worst parts of Nishinari, and even though I’m Japanese, I’m sure nobody else thinks so.

Try going to a slum in South America, Africa, other Asian nation and just walk in.

It wont end well

8 ( +10 / -2 )

It is surprising that JapanToday gets an article from an external source which is just a cut and paste job from various online articles. The headline will lead one to believe this is about Nishinari-ku in Osaka, but is it really?

It quoted an Huffington Post interview with Yusuke, but I read that he is born and raised in Tokyo in the original article. You dont see 30+yr olds in that Nishinari slums , walk the ground and u see they are all of a much older generation, the dwindling remnants of the construction boom in the 80s.

Please dont sensationalize the topic with words such as tragic - the real day labourers are leading tough lives. Yusuke is a representation of young adults whom did not get the best education opportunities due to family, socio-economic backgrounds. The original article is more about unfair employment practices that are hiring people on a daily and lower rate instead of a stipulated minimum monthly rate.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Clumsiest headline I've ever read on a news website.

Does anyone ever say "on the lam"? I'm from the UK, we say "on the run."

I had no idea what "on the lam" even meant until recently.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Nishinari is a lot safer than council estates in the UK or try walking around some areas in Colombia as a foreigner without an armed guard!

Nishinari ward is not paradise but it isn’t so dangerous...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The murder rate is about 1/5th the American rate,

It is incorrect. Murder rate per 100,000;

U.S.A 5.35

Japan 0.28

5.35/0.28 = 19

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I did volunteer work in Nishinari and also wandered around.

on several occasions in izakayas, local people bought me drinks or snack food.

maybe because I’m a gaijin, I don’t know, but apart from 10 years ago, never happened in Nagoya, Tokyo or Kyoto.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

My first time there was in '96 and there were homeless everywhere. The economy was a lot worse in '96 than in '92 when these riots happened. Went back the following summer and it smelled like piss.

In the 2000s, it was pretty much the same but during the last second half of the '10s, a whole bunch of guest houses, youth hostels, and a revival of dozens and dozens of karaoke snack bars had brought the shotengai there back to life. So many "clean" young travelers could be found all around the perimeter of Airin and the slummier areas further south.

It'll be interesting to see the area post-covid. If the hostels/hotels go bankrupt and the hundreds of backpackers and discount travelers don't come back, then they place will slip back to the 90s and 00s again.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Osaka: lived there nearly 18 years. Yes there are some rough ish places, yes there is poverty in certain areas, and yes the police can be very, very disrespectful or even criminal themselves. The people... Friendly yes, narrow minded yes, welcoming - depends entirely on where you are and who you are. It's a normal city of good and bad.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Places like Nishinari are an inevitable outcome when capital is valued more than people's lives. In such a system, there are going to be those who don't "compete" well enough (and yes, it may simply be because one's parents had difficulties). And now even those who did study hard and followed all the rules and incentives find that their future is not very assured. Well, a few have outsmarted the majority, and convinced the general populace to support their schemes, so either take some action or accept whatever comes your way.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Still want to say, OSAKA is like Tokyo ???.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Had an apartment in this ward, there was a large number of homeless men they used to be located around the Tsutenkaku area then as Japan's Tourism boom happened these guys got moved down the road. The redlight district is only a short walk away, there were some sleazy "workers hotels" in the area but it wasn't a place that I felt unsafe in.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

moonbloomToday  wrote:

there are going to be those who don't "compete" well enough (and yes, it may simply be because one's parents had difficulties). And now even those who did study hard and followed all the rules and incentives find that their future is not very assured.

This reeks of elitism. Those in blue collar jobs aren't necessarily those who "who didn't follow the rules" or "didn't study hard". Many blue collar workers are straight up people and chose to enter their professions - family businesses, skilled at them, studied/apprenticed to do them, actually like these jobs etc. They've had a tough break these past few decades, but I wouldn't be so condescending as to say they didn't "compete" well enough.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Pwoppa norty that riot. 9:34 in the video, cop falls over.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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