In a deepening recession the homeless are getting younger and younger, Shukan Jitsuwa (Dec. 30) finds. Among those it encounters in the streets of Tokyo and Osaka is a young man who sleeps in phone booths when cold makes shelter necessary, and young women who turn increasingly cheap tricks (for deflation is cutting sex prices too) to pay for a night at a Net cafe or manga coffee shop.
The evidence offered is anecdotal rather than statistical. We are introduced first to “S-san,” who at 53 represents an earlier generation of homeless. A barber by profession, he boldly threw that over when the asset-inflated economic bubble of the 1980s made instant fortunes possible – or seemed to. From his native Hokkaido he went to Tokyo, worked in construction, and sure enough, lined his pockets to the tune of 400,000 yen to 500,000 yen a month. If only it had lasted!
But of course the bubble burst, the jobs dried up, and now he’s reduced to sleeping on cardboard and surviving on food handouts at Ueno Park. Still, he has his pride. When Shukan Jitsuwa’s reporter asks why he doesn’t apply for welfare, S-san shoots back, “Too many restrictions. Doesn’t suit me. Better to be free.”
That proud defiance seems missing in “N-san,” 29. His is a tale of the 2000s. There’s no bubble in his memory. He graduated from high school in Kyushu, drifted to Tokyo, and did temp work for years, living in a company dorm. Last spring he lost his job and, simultaneously, his accommodation. Construction day labor kept him going for a while, but lately even that seems beyond reach. “The main reason,” he says, “is that I’ve got no fixed address, no guarantor. What could I do? I registered at a job center.”
He gets work occasionally, but “it’s just scraping by. If I earn 40,000 yen a month, it’s a lot.”
He’s the one who has taken to sleeping in phone booths as winter approaches. "Still,” he says, “I’m better off than some.”
He’s thinking of young homeless women – a relatively new breed. Many of them are former ero-entertainment workers, squeezed out of a trade that’s no longer what it used to be. Now they service the poor for 3,000 yen or 5,000 yen. “Petty prostitution,” one observer terms it.
In Osaka there’s a place called “Thieves’ Market,” a warren of narrow streets lined with outdoor stalls selling videos, used books, used appliances and the like. Many of the young women on staff, Shukan Jitsuwa says, are homeless.
The magazine for some reason doesn’t ask the women how they feel about their lives, or what they see looking to the future, but the impression is that it’s being shrugged off almost as normal. If so, it’s a sad state Japan has come to, with no short-term prospect of better. As S-san puts it, “I thought when the Democratic Party of Japan came in, there would be more jobs for us, but no way. It’s worse than it was in the days of the LDP.”© Japan Today