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Middle-age homeless sleeping in cars or cafes due to soaring cost of living

33 Comments
By Michael Hoffman
Image: kumikomini/iStock

Two years ago he was a dentist. Today he’s homeless.

It can happen to anyone and it happens to many, says Spa (Feb 13-20), making its point with some sad case histories. Anything can happen, and much does. There are many cracks to fall through, and it’s a long way down.

“Yojji Takada” (all names in this story are pseudonyms) was middle-class comfort personified. He earned 10 million yen a year, lived in an upscale Kansai suburb with his wife and son, and had no reason to doubt, before COVID-19 hit and cast doubt on everything, that his life was built on unshakable foundations.

Fear of infection kept patients away. Routine checkups seemed not worth the risk. Then came inflation, a universal price surge. It began as 2020 ended and hasn’t stopped. It sent utilities soaring and also the cost of metals essential to the dental trade. Earnings fell, tensions rose. Takada worked at a dental clinic. He got on poorly with its director. Tempers flared and he was fired. Thus ended the year 2021. 

He could, perhaps, have got by on freelance work, but buckled under the strain. It was too sudden, too much. “I couldn’t face it,” he says. He sank into depression – and found life doesn’t stop for the depressed. Housing loans came due – 350,000 yen a month. There were his son’s school fees – an astonishing 20 million yen the first year of dental school, for he was to follow in his father’s footsteps.

He borrowed here and borrowed there; it wasn’t sustainable and one day the real estate company came calling: Pay up or we’ll put your house up for auction, and all the neighbors will know. His wife panicked. Takada fled. He now sleeps in a station wagon borrowed from a friend, parking it in supermarket parking lots or highway service areas. He’s 47.

One day on an impulse he dropped into a familiar coffee shop near his old clinic. “I’ll order a ‘morning set,’” he thought. Scanning the menu, he saw its price had gone up 200 yen. He left without ordering.

“Nagisa Yamada,” age 42, was a 20-year veteran of the soaplands, the erotic entertainment industry. In her 20s she’d earned a million yen a month, she tells Spa; less as she aged but one is prepared for that and she had no complaints until the pandemic sent her and her business reeling. On the one hand, customers stayed home; on the other, competition grew fierce as women from other sectors similarly hit drifted into the streets; it was a matter of survival.

Downmarket Yamada went, working five days a week to earn barely 200,000 yen a month. Her savings dwindled, and when she missed a rent payment her landlord was happy to evict her; he’d long been wanting to, she suspects, so he could raise the rent, which he promptly did.

She sleeps, she says, mostly in all-night manga coffee shops.

The same tale recurs in a thousand variations. “Tadashi Otani,” 40, was a full-time bartender at a restaurant-cum-event facility, earning 3 million yen a year and living comfortably within his means. Inflation hit his employer hard and the bar, though not the establishment, closed. Otani was not fired, but he’d been hired as a bartender and felt superfluous in what was left of the place. Quitting seemed the graceful thing, and he did it – not reflecting, perhaps, or not foreseeing, just how dark the road ahead would be. He haunts the local entertainment district, sleeping in karaoke bars, never leaving the area except to do occasional delivery work for Uber Eats.

Japan’s government spent nearly 70 billion yen, in the four years through 2023, relieving economic distress caused by COVID. Relief hasn’t reached everyone, apparently. Meanwhile, Spa finds, Japanese households spend on average 26 percent of their income on food – the highest figure in 40 years.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

33 Comments
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Why is a dentist out of work?

It seems he's suffering from depression.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I used to stop at a fair number of Service Areas/Parking Areas/Michi no Ekis in suburban and inaka-type places... seems like there were always a handful of vans similar to the one shown above, parked with the windows completely covered. Naively, I figured these folks were just travelers or campers, but looking back a lot of those cars were people in these kinds of situations.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

@wallace There are too many of them. And with improved oral hygiene less need for them. There are some dentists in my area open up until 9 at night working six days a week, just trying to pull in enough to survive!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The article does not mention “Yojji Takada”  seeking treatment or therapy for his depression. Many people suffer from depression but continue to work.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Or get a Government job...unsackable

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The thing is there is no social welfare net here .

If you fail you are done for.

There's going to be a lot of people like this especially as the education industry implodes with the lack of children

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Arrrgh-Type You are right. I often go to michi no ekis to walk my dog. You can see the same vans/cars parked there every night.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I remember sleeping in the back seat of a car that was loaned to me while going to college. It was only for a few days, and I was still a teen ager. Didn't have money for lodgings. Money for tuition and books was more important. Wouldn't want to recreate that experience now. An acquaintance loaned me their couch for a few weeks after that, until I could get a room to share. At the time it seemed like not a big deal, if rather uncomfortable.

Drove to college, found a job, lived in the car, saved money to go to school. Amazing how resilient we can be as youths.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Why is a dentist out of work?

A question answered by reading the article.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

Why is a dentist out of work?

1 ( +8 / -7 )

Yep, be humble and never let your guard down with too much debt. Middle age depression is a nightmare and I would know. Hopefully he will pull out of it and be thankful for what he has. In my understanding, unfortunately a house loan can not be discharged in bankruptcy in Japan (?).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Going to college was worth it. I loved the college experience.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Mom used to say that I would have starved back in my college days if it weren't for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Don't just learn a transferable trade, learn English too. Two thirds of the planet will then employ you at the drop of a hat to fill their employment gaps. Korean doctors (in the other article today) or Japanese dentists. Bag those English skills and the world of private practice is your oyster.

The moral of this tale is to save cash when you are earning it, avoid debt, and (even if you don't think you need it), work on your side hustle. Governments are cracking down on the sharing economy (AirBnB etc), but there are still plenty of options out there.

You will always need more money than you think, and you never know when your government is going to ruin your 'plan A'. So have a 'plan B' and save cash when you can.

Having been in a spot a few times, I've slept in bathtubs and filled envelopes like many people. The cost of surviving a day in a G7 country is not low. Consider yourself at war with the forces of darkness: hunger, homelessness, cold, your government and the economy. Then weaponise your skills, deploy them, and start notching up enough income to protect yourself and your family.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Ah, isn't end-stage capitalism wonderful!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

So many examples of mental health not being addressed and just giving up when things go south.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why in the name of all things decent and humane is there no welfare support for the unemployed? It’s not that novel a concept, been around since the 19th century. Good god even the Uber capitalist USA has some sort of system in place!

Sadly mental health is in most countries the least supported and all too often the least talked about aspect of health care.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Shows destruction of lives brought about by the stupidity of the extreme’s governments went to to try to stop the unstoppable…

0 ( +5 / -5 )

@wallace the guy explained his reason as reported in the article.

Why is a dentist out of work?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Middle-age homeless sleeping in cars or cafes due to soaring cost of living

It is a global phenomena, even for those with jobs.

https://www.networkworld.com/article/944772/silicon-valley-google-employees-living-in-cars.html

And it is textbook Late Stage Capitalism, whether you want to hear it or not, where the only way to live comfortably is by being propertied, independently wealthy, having access to abundant rentier capital and making money while you are sleeping.

-1 ( +9 / -10 )

26% off household income on food in Japan, record, but remember inflation's only 2%!

Probably food in US and Europe an even higher % on average, any wonder why Politicians in Office are SO UNPOPULAR NOW? High Prices are political kryptonite.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Number one skill everyone should cultivate, aware of yourself, aware when you're angry, aware when you're happy. There are so many people whose life would change if only they're aware when they're angry and switch it off.

You don't survive in Japan or anywhere else unless you play well with others.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Anyone think food costs have not risen rapidly in recent years in Japan? I'd like to meet that person, as everyone I know feels everything's far pricier now, conservatively 25% more since start of pandemic, but likely closer to 50% more taking into account 'shrinkflation' etc.

US $ Europe Food Inflation, I hear is far worse than Japan. Thus, RECORD household food expenditures & terrible Approval Ratings for Biden, Kishida etc.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Covid killed lot of dental work, probably most on JT got their teeth cleaned less and got more serious about daily habits etc. Just re-starting 2x year cleaning, probably my situation's normal, if everyone cut back, makes tough market LOTS tougher, plus depopulation etc.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

He earned 10 million yen a year, lived in an upscale Kansai suburb with his wife and son, and had no reason to doubt,  He’s 47.

Too bad he should be in his peak of his career right now,

 There were his son’s school fees – an astonishing 20 million yen the first year of dental school, for he was to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Many school offer scholarship or at least loan, when he can't afford his son tuition, his son should apply for loan from his school. It's easy for him to repay those loan.

https://www.salaryexplorer.com/average-salary-wage-comparison-japan-dentist-c107j924

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Tadashi Otani,” 40, was a full-time bartender at a restaurant-cum-event facility,

Never heard of a restaurant-cum-event facility..

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

Relief hasn’t reached everyone, apparently. Meanwhile, Spa finds, Japanese households spend on average 26 percent of their income on food – the highest figure in 40 years.

Article says 26%, so I take them at their word, so nice if those commenting would read & comprehend!

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Shows destruction of lives brought about by the stupidity of the extreme’s governments went to to try to stop the unstoppable…

In this case, something weaker than the flu...

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Yes, inflation is a stark issue and we're all hurting from it, BUT.

1 anyone who in 2020 wailed for life to shutdown because of C19 does not get to wail about the obvious outcomes we all get slapped with. You asked for this, and now you have no right to complain. 2 using the clickbait example of this particular dentist who obviously made poor financial and personal decisions is fear-mongering.
-6 ( +5 / -11 )

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