“Daisuke Yoshida” sleeps in his car. “Masao Hishida” sleeps in parks. Both names are pseudonyms. Both men are victims, though not ill, of the coronavirus pandemic. Spa! (Sept 8-15) portrays them and others as swelling the ranks of the “corona homeless.”
Yoshida, 38, and his wife owned a tourist guest house in the Tokai region. The tourist industry has been gutted by the pandemic. The Yoshidas’ earnings this spring were down 80 percent from last. In May they hosted one family. The rest of the story is fairly predictable.
As bankruptcy loomed, the couple, formerly harmonious enough, grew acrimonious. Tensions magnified every trivial disagreement into a crisis. Yoshida at last settled his financial affairs as best he could, emerging with only unpayable debts for assets. His wife, with their 5-year-old daughter, moved in with her parents. Yoshida moved into his car.
Occasional day labor earns him food money. Then he seeks out a vacant parking lot, parks his vehicle, and settles down for the night. We’re left guessing how he feels about this – bitter, we imagine. He’s far from alone, Spa! tells us, though just how large this floating population is seems to escape statistical measurement.
Hishida, 53, was a college student 30 years ago. Unable to pay tuition, he dropped out, falling into the “hiring ice age” that characterized the recessionary 1990s. There followed a succession of part-time jobs. Then came what seemed like a break – full-time status. Dormitory accommodations were available. Finally he seemed to have gained a foothold. His drifting had led him somewhere.
To nowhere good, as it happened. His employer proved to be a “black company.” Employees were overworked, underpaid and bullied. One, Hishida says, was driven to suicide.
He quit finally, unable to endure it. He was by now past 30. Next he landed a job with a manga cafe chain, rising to area manager. “Manager” is a nice title, which some employers bestow willingly because it permits them to demand “service overtime” – a euphemism for unpaid overtime. The overwork broke him physically. Once again he found himself not only jobless but homeless.
He drifted across the country, from job to job. In Fukushima he joined a crew cleaning up radiation from the nuclear meltdown. In Hokkaido he worked shelling scallops. In Hiroshima he joined a worker dispatch firm that sent him wherever a hand was needed. Back in Tokyo, he found work at a factory. Here too he lived in the dorm and congratulated himself on his good luck.
Corona put an end to it. The factory laid him off, telling him they’d contact him as soon as things got back to normal.
That was five months ago. For a time he received support from an NPO. That arrangement ended, for reasons not clearly explained, in early August, when the mid-summer heat was at its worst.
He sleeps mostly in parks. He’s sensitive about how his unwashed body must smell, and sees – or perhaps imagines – children shrinking from him. In consideration of them and their parents he moves from park to park. When Spa! spoke to him, he had 2,000 yen in his pocket.
He lives, he says, mostly on water. Maybe the factory will contact him. He hopes so but doubts it. As for things getting back to normal, there’s no sign of it happening any time soon.© Japan Today