Last January a welfare ministry survey counted 130 homeless in Sendai, and municipal officials say that hasn’t changed appreciably since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated the region.
Anecdotal evidence collected by Spa! (Dec 6) suggests otherwise, however. “City hall only counts those who go to them for help,” says a local former homeless man surnamed Suzuki. “My impression is that the homeless population is two or three times what it was before the quake.”
It makes sense to suppose it might be, given the vast dislocations the disaster has caused. Suzuki, working now as a volunteer night watchman keeping an eye out for looters, says, “Probably people left homeless by the quake had some savings, and were able at least to find shelter at Net cafés and all-night restaurants and the like, but as their savings run out they’re hitting the streets, at the mercy of the cold Tohoku winter.”
Among the new homeless are those who, unable to face life in a crowded shelter, took jobs with reconstruction crews for the sake of the more private dormitories that were provided. The jobs were temporary, though, and now, having lost their living quarters along with their work, they find themselves out in the cold, the new temporary housing hurriedly built to accommodate people in shelters being already full.
Experiences, adventures and misadventures are as numerous and varied as the individuals being put through them by circumstances far, far beyond their control. Among the several stories Spa! hears is one of a 32-year-old man the magazine calls Mr Arai. His apartment building in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture was washed away by the tsunami and he moved into a shelter, a local school gym. He’d been a port laborer, but the port was destroyed and his job gone. He had 20,000 yen to his name.
Life in a shelter is a grim business. The only pleasure was the daily meal service. By September most of his fellow refugees had either moved into temporary housing or made other arrangements for themselves. Arai, somehow, didn’t manage to. Ashamed, he left.
He slept in abandoned cars or half-destroyed abandoned houses. Autumn was coming on, it was getting colder. He found a volunteer center that took him on. For food, a tent and a portable gas heater he worked clearing rubble. He lasted a week and left – keeping, however, the tent and heater.
He headed south but got no farther than Minamisanriku, a short distance down the coast. Here too he did volunteer work. He got to know the other volunteers, fell in love with one, and decided he rather liked the life after all: “If you think of it as homeless, that’s what it is, but if you think of it as camping, it’s fun!”
And so for now he’ll stay put. “The power of love,” he says, “will see me through the winter.”© Japan Today