People’s lives are going up in smoke, and there’s no end in sight.
It’s 2 o’clock on a recent Saturday afternoon. On a street near Shinjuku Station, 100-odd people are lined up, waiting their turn. The NPO Shinjuku Gohan Plus is distributing free meals. They’ve been doing it since well before the COVID-19 outbreak, but 30 percent of the recipients are newcomers, victims of what Spa! (May 5-12) calls “coronavirus poverty.”
Among them is “Kenji Yokota” (a pseudonym, like all other names in this story).
Aged 50 and single, Yokota lost his job in December. It had nothing to do with the virus. He’d worked for a cabaret club, boarding in its dorm, but a quarrel with his boss drove him to quit. He could always manage on day labor, he thought – and so he did, mostly as a construction site security guard. How could he foresee that a raging viral epidemic would shut down his sector, along with so many others?
Sometimes he sleeps at a friend’s house; occasionally he “splurges” and stays at an overnight sauna, but mostly he beds down on a bench at Ueno Park.
It takes its toll. “Sleeping rough wears you down; you’re more likely to get infected; and if I do, can I even go to a hospital, with no income?”
“I want to work!” he cries plaintively. “Anything, I’ll do anything.” Some job interviews did materialize, but he’d arrive only to be told the hiring plans are on hold during the emergency. “Call again on May 6,” he’s told. But how much change are we likely to see by then? Meanwhile, he’s down to his last 10,000 yen
The story has a happy ending, of sorts. A few days later, Spa!’s reporter gets a phone call. It’s him. At another free meal distribution, an NPO rep advised him to visit city hall and ask about welfare benefits. He did, and was told he qualifies. That’ll keep him going. For now, that’s all he asks.
Particularly hard-hit by corona poverty are “night workers” – like “Misato Nakai,” 23. Work as a provider of “delivery health” sexual services hadn’t been her first choice. Circumstances drove her to it – a poor family, a substantial student loan to pay off, the wretchedly low pay in the nursing care industry, where she’d worked previously. You can’t live on 170,000 yen a month in Tokyo, she found.
Delivery health? It has its drawbacks, but monthly earnings above 1 million yen a month make up for them, she decided. Then came COVID-19. Since she visits clients rather than have them come to her, she’s not covered by the emergency measure closing down other forms of ero-entertainment. But clients in a pandemic prefer to err on the side of caution, if erring it is. She’s still available, still hoping for an upturn as she watches her savings shrink and shrink. Soon, she figures, she won’t be able to pay rent.
The elderly are no less vulnerable. “Eiji Oishi,” 63, is a freelance carpenter. It’s a chancy business at the best of times. There are good months and bad months – the good ones must make up for the bad. March and April are normally good. Spring is the season for large-scale events, and carpenters like Oishi are in demand. This spring, suddenly, there are no events. The jobs he’d had lined up evaporated.
He’s single and childless, living in a one-room 30,000-yen-a-month apartment. What has he to look forward to, even after normality returns? “At my age it’s hard to find new jobs.”© Japan Today