New breed of homeless earn a living on YouTube

By Michael Hoffman

Think “homeless” – what comes to mind? Aging, faded, ghostly figure, man or woman, emerging at dawn from a cardboard box, trudging the streets, eyes vacant, step dragging, attention wandering, pausing here and there to pick up an item of recyclable, saleable junk…

There’s that – but homelessness, like everything else, is diversifying. Spa (March 21-28) discovers a new breed – the YouTube homeless. The new breed of homeless breeds a new breed of star. The next one could be you.

 It could be anyone, though it’s very far from everyone, and you can’t help wondering, reading Spa’s report, what qualities distinguish the few winners from the masses who make little impression. Meet a man we’ll call Teihen (rock-bottom). It’s not his own identity but the name of the YouTube channel on which he and others post their lives. Sad, weary lives they are, for the most part, and yet – perhaps this is the quality we’re looking for – invested with a kind of grandeur. It’s  hard to put your finger on, but it’s there, or at least seems to be.

He’s 40. He’d barely moved into a new apartment when the landlord changed his mind. “Out,” he said. Renting to a chronic “freeter” of his age – “freeter” meaning part-time freelance worker earning little and vulnerable to sudden layoff – was too risky. Teihen took it in stride, as he has taken all the nasty turns life has dealt him. He’d live on the street a while, see what turned up.

He was not penniless; he had three jobs – cleaner by day, karaoke box clerk by night, on Saturdays a waiter at an udon restaurant. One thing about the virtual revolution – it’s democratic. No one is so homeless as not to have a potential home somewhere in cyberspace. “A life like mine,” he thought, “should make for interesting posts.”

The Teihen channel was founded by a 27-year-old woman who calls herself Meru. An abusive father forced her from her childhood home; a live-in arrangement with a boyfriend went sour; at 22 she was on the streets, chronic attention deficit disorder making steady employment impossible. Sleeping in parks and parking lots, she was noticed by a blogger running a site introducing Japan to foreigners. Before she knew it, she had an international audience. Her fans sent her things: food, clothing – “even,” she laughs, “two computers, which I never could get to work!” Why not, she thought, set up a site for others like herself? Thus – in November 2020 – was the Teihen channel born.

The man we’re calling Teihen also gets stuff from supporters eager to help: rice, sake, food delicacies like blowfish – there’s no telling what; “somebody even took me traveling.” The news is so full of meanness, spite, violence, crime; it’s heartening to have occasion to observe that most people are probably kind and sympathetic at heart.

Meru lives on the nominal fees Teihen users pay, plus donations. It’s not prosperity – or maybe it is, since she’s not complaining. So what if she lives on two meals a day, sometimes one, or sleeps in a Net cafe? She’s independent and free, and those who value independence and freedom above comfort and possessions know their own kind of prosperity.

Spa asks her about future plans. “Modeling,” she says. Go for it, says Spa – “let her put her good looks to use!”

One more character rounds out our cast. “Manami” worked in a department store, which went bankrupt, throwing her on the streets –  to which condition, she tells Spa, she soon adjusted, turning tricks near Tokyo’s Okubo Park for 10,000 yen each, sometimes earning as much as 80,000 yen a night, 500,000-odd a month. Live on the streets, get known on the streets; invited to appear on a Net broadcast, then another and another, she soon found herself sitting on a fair nest egg.

Fortune won, fortune lost – frittered away, rather,  mainly at host clubs. Things went bad, she made enemies, got beaten up – well, that too was grist for the mill, matter for broadcast. Now 27, she’s ready to “graduate” – to move in, that is to say, with a boyfriend. Good luck to her, and to all street people, and all people generally nurturing alternative lifestyles as the mainstream, though still flowing, grows less and less nourishing.

Michael Hoffman is the author of “Arimasen.” 

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

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There’s that – but homelessness, like everything else, is diversifying. Spa (March 21-28) discovers a new breed – the YouTube homeless. The new breed of homeless breeds a new breed of star. The next one could be you.

Reminds me of William Gibson's description of a homeless , genius hacker living in a cardboard box in Shinjuku Station.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This is the image of real Japan!

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

homeless youtubers! Wow! That's new!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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