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Kabukicho street child subject of new photo book

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From the current buzz around Hollywood, the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” about a destitute boy from the Mumbai slums who becomes a phenomenally successful quiz show contestant on Indian TV's version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” seems a sure thing to win numerous Academy Awards.

Perhaps this need to empathize with the underprivileged may help boost sales of the recently released photo collection “Kabukicho no Kokoro-chan” (Kodansha, 1,500 yen).

According to Shukan Gendai (Feb 7), Kwon Chol, a 42-year-old Korean photojournalist, has chronicled the mean streets of Kabukicho for the past 12 years. Kwon’s newest work introduces touching scenes of a homeless 4-year-old girl he first encountered there in September, 2007.

“What’s your name?” he asked her. “Kokoro!” she replied, holding up four small fingers to indicate her age and grinning to reveal badly stained teeth.

Her parents, from a nearby prefecture, had moved to Tokyo, where they shifted from job to job, and eventually wound up living on the streets of Shinjuku.

Apparently from age three onward, Kokoro was left to wander around Kabukicho on her own, waiting for her mother to return from work. According to Kwon, other homeless fed her -- items such as hamburgers with expired consume-by dates and ice cream -- and she adapted naturally to her surroundings.

“Her living room was a game arcade,” he’s quoted. “Her toilet was the toilet in the arcade. She’d walk around the plaza in front of Koma Theater in her bare feet. Maybe she regarded it the way other kids think of their own backyards.”

Kwon tells Shukan Gendai he became emotionally involved in the child’s well being, helping her father to find a job and assisting the family in the search for affordable housing. But at the same time he couldn't resist snapping photos of Kokoro-chan, padding about the entertainment district in a tiny hooded sweatshirt, carrying discarded cardboard boxes and sleeping on the sidewalk.

“I have to accept that I’m not really a professional,” Kwon admits. The scenes in his book, of a street child smiling with a mouth filled with cavities, seem out of place in Japan's prosperous capital city.

Kwon was relieved when the homeless chapter of Kokoro-chan’s saga came to an end, and her mother obtained admittance to a welfare facility. Assuming things have since gone well, she should be entering first grade from April.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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She has a mother and father but they were all on the street.. awful. I wonder how on earth she will adjust to 'normal' life...?

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it would only take a foreigner to bring this story to light. its too gritty for the waido shows to pick up.

with the excesses going on in Kabuki-cho, its astonishing.

imagine a 4 year old homeless girl living in times square, Vegas Strip, etc etc. Social services would pick her up 15 minutes later.

gives you an idea of how "hands off" kabuki-cho actually is. I havent seen a cop around there in years. just make sure your bicycle is properly registered though...

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A few weeks ago, walking down Yokohama's walking street about 8pm amid the teeming well-dressed crowd of new year's shoppers, a scarecrow of a man danced nimbly through the throng. His rags were so completely tattered, no shoes - he looked like what I can only describe as perhaps, Ben Gunn. I've seen all manner of street people in Japan, but this creature was so completely and utterly strange that many of the Japanese stopped to look and point at him as he hopped his way down the street... very surreal, especially to see Japanese stopping to take notice.

I wondered where he could have come from and where he was going, and what on earth propelled him to do emerge from his shadow in the midst of such a brightly lit crowd. He looked terrified, and moved as though he was walking on hot coals.

At the margins of this society there must be some real horrors hidden in the darkness. One can only hope this little girl has found a place in the sun.

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If there were homeless in Japan, the "caring" government would surely do something about it(, instead of treating it like an eyesore)

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When is this film slumdog millionaire going to be released in Japan??

Moderator: In April.

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On an individual level, this photographer's intent is admirable, but the lame attempt to tie it into the story of the slums of India, where millions live in abject poverty, is offensive.

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But it seems the "tie in" is at Japan Today's end, not the photographer's. Good to know that mom got into a place and the child is in school.

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i read a book by chinese author with photoes from this korean guy, about kabukicho. there was a part about this girl too. she spent total of almost 4 years in that state... classic

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I don't believe this story; it sounds totally contrived. The guy must work for the NY Times.

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Glad to see this book published by a Japanese publisher. It would really be nice to see Kodansha donate 10% of revenues from the sales of this book to help the less privileged. I have been in few places where falling thru the cracks is as devastating as it is here in Japan. Yet it takes so little to make a difference to have this kind of thing not happen. This is not an issue isolated to Tokyo, poverty is expanding in all corners of Japan. For those in Kansai, spending a little time in south Osaka would be an eye opener and as impacting or more than the book. If every able body person in japan volunteered just a couple hours a month or donated the equivalent in wages... is our future not worth it?

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This is Japan's secret that if you are poor, no matter your previous station life, you become a unperson.

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Kabuki cho is yakuza controlled. No sane person goes anywhere near the place. What a sad story - and shameful, too. Social Services, as understood in the rest of the civilised world, are non-existant in this neck of the woods, and this sad story proves it.

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>Kabuki cho is yakuza controlled. No sane person goes anywhere near the place

You obviously live a very sheltered life. There's more to Kabukicho than yak-run massage parlours.

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leave your car..spend a day walking on the street of shinjuku ..and you will discover a real Japan without its cosmetics...

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