The end of a homeless, nameless life on the street


One morning in Osaka's Nishinari Ward last December, a man's corpse was found protruding from stacked bags of rubbish at the curb awaiting collection. He appeared to have expired while foraging for something to eat.

As Spa! (Jan 26) reports, such incidents are not uncommon, particularly in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and other large cities where day laborers converge in search of jobs.

"On days when it rains from morning, you feel chilled to the bone," a man who appeared to be in his 50s, living in a makeshift shelter in a Tokyo public park, tells the magazine. "It's a hard way to live, enough to make you wish you were dead."

Tsuyoshi Inaba, worker for the non-profit organization Moyai that distributes "onigiri" rice balls and blankets around the city's homeless encampments, says that the destitute homeless who are fortunate to be admitted to hospitals are typically designated on their charts as "Shinjuku Taro" (John Doe, Shinjuku) or with a number, such as "Shinjuku 176 male."

But many never make it to the hospital. In the language of officialdom, when a person found dead on the street cannot be identified from his or her possessions, he or she is referred to as "koryo shibojin" (a transit fatality). Last year, authorities in Japan processed about 700 cases. When no relative can be found to claim the body, the task of disposal falls upon the municipality where the body was found.

Takeshi Ikuta, a member of a network for homeless in the Airin district in Osaka's Nishinari Ward, says he has found corpses on the street numerous times. This is hardly surprising, considering the area's inhabitants were once described by Doctors Without Borders as having dietary conditions on a par with a refugee camp. Tuberculosis is also widespread.

"Some have already begun to decompose," Ikuta recalls. "They might collapse in a park; by the time you touch them, rigor mortis will have already set in."

Public facilities are typically swamped, and often by the time many homeless are admitted, they are beyond help.

"Almost all the people who live on the streets suffer from malnutrition," says Tadako Miyashita, a former counselor at the Tokyo's Johoku Welfare Center and author of Sanya Mandala. "No matter how spry they appear, they are surprisingly frail, and can die with practically no advance warning signs. Many pass away shortly after being admitted to hospitals."

Miyashita, who has traveled to flophouse districts around the country, says day laborers usually manage as long as their stamina holds out. But when they can eventually no longer work -- due to old age, disease or injuries -- they lose both their jobs and their lodgings.

"No matter how the social safety net is improved, some are slow to accept assistance," Miyashita notes. "The stronger the person's sense of pride, the more he's likely to wind up a street fatality."

"I can't predict if more younger people will come to us or not," says Masaki Yamamoto, director of the shelter Kibo no Ie, in Tokyo's Sanya district. He points out that men in their 30s and 40s, who are typically the most hesitant to seek assistance, have recently been coming in search of lodgings.

"One thing I'm sure of is that even for young, healthy people with many good years ahead of them, the social circumstances are becoming increasingly severe," Yamamoto says.

© Japan Today

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Not unique to Tokyo, by any means.

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On the one hand a rich country with a very powerful economy. On the other hand homeless people who have nothing and expire in the frosty street. This is the face of capitalism.

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There are harsh realities in Japan.

Constitution in Japan shows that All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living as long as they fulfill their duties of working and paying taxes.

I want Japanese government to keep taking care of people who are looking for jobs. Don't care about people who played pachinko, drank alcohol after getting 20,000 yen of compensation in Tokyo.

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@YGHome: Don't put this at the feet of Capitalism. This problem exists, to some extent, under every government and social system in the world.

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My brother worked as a psychiatrist in Nishinariku. He involved himself in a lot of hanky panky.......then moved out of there and started a practice somewhere else with the help of my mother.I guess there r good doctors and bad doctors. He is of the latter unfortunately. There are jobs in Japan if they r willing to work I realized. Some just want to live off the dole, by hook or crook!!!.

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BTW, I know some Japanese(probably a small minority)who r 50 deep in debt, live in a 6 mat tatami mat room, eat cup noodles everyday, but yet drive a Porsche, BMW, or a Mercedes. I wonder where their priorities lie.

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The poor will always be with us.

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"When no relative can be found to claim the body, the task of disposal falls upon the municipality where the body was found"

I wonder if they pull the crap like in the states were they drop some old gal with no insurence downtown in another town?

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No matter how spry they appear, they are surprisingly frail, and can die with practically no advance warning signs.

What a quote. It seems to be something that Rudolf Hoss (Auchwitz Commander) would say, circa 1943. Indeed, it is scandal that such things could be said about Japan in the 21st Century.

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This has been going on since civilization began. Even in Rome a significant portion of the budget was to give bread as welfare to many living on the dole. What's a society to do when there are more willing workers than there are jobs? If you start giving out free money, people take advantage and everybody suffers.

No blame on capitalism, or socialism. This is just part and parcel to human life, unfortunately.

Be thankful for what you've got.

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and help out when you can

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these areas are connected to burakumin or the lower caste. The discrimination still persists and this is the evidence.

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The stronger the person’s sense of pride, the more he’s likely to wind up a street fatality.

is that what it is, pride? well i suppose it can be here in J-land..

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"If you start giving out free money, people take advantage and everybody suffers" Or you can just save all the homeless from Bill Gates' one year's salary. I dont think Bill would suffer though. Which is more important: the system or the lives of people? If the system is the more important than why we care about places like Haiti? We'll we suffer if we give out free money to Haiti?

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Reading the title I thought this would be an uplifting story, not the soul-crushing read that it was ...

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there r jobs in Japan. If not, then y r there so many non=japanese flocking over to work the three K jobs. Listen, I have friends who were engineers, dentists, architects, stock brokers who have gotten laid off ad they work at 7/11, security guards, constriction workers......and yet not whine and try to cheat the system

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I'm sure in many cases people choose to be homeless for whatever reason. Other times it's through no fault of their own. But when a society doesn't give you much of a reason to climb out of a hole you're in other than to shame you into non existence, it's no wonder the problem is as big as it is.

Money will never solve this problem. Taking the time to care and respect everyone as equal no matter what their social standing in life is will go much further than a fistful of dollars ever will.

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I know of a homeless man who died of TB. You could just imagine the man coughing hard and what comes out is not a sputum but lobes of blood! Very pitiable! Very disgusting! Disgusting still as the wife he left for something like 10 years is now receiving a survivor's pension. My point is some homeless people could have refunded their social security contribution even if it meant a refund of 2 or 3 years contribution just like the ones afforded to gaijins. But no they're not entitled to refunds because they are Japanese. And they can't even apply for welfare because they don't have a domicile. Even if the parks can be listed as domicile they wouldn't simply because they don't want to do jusho henko for some personal reasons. When some die on the street, their wives whom they left decades ago apply for the survivor's pension and no one ask why. Speaking of dole outs and taking advantage!

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I agree with yabusama - some must choose to be homeless as living in shame or bringing shame to one's family in Japan is almost out of the question- but that doesn't mean that we should look thru these people & pretend that they don't exist. When I lived in Japan I always tried to help out , not with money but in the form of my gloves, scarves or a hot meal. My japanese friends were amused at my feelings for these people - maybe they didn't understand that as a gaigin I was almost at the same level as these homeless people?

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I completely agree with yasumasa here. I think there was a movie a while ago that had a salaryman character who got fired and couldn't tell his wife for a year; he'd leave every morning at the same time and just sit in a park for a day. For men, failing to provide for their families is the worst possible thing they can do.

Also, Angelo, get your facts straight. Bill Gates donates a ton of money to charity, and I think roughly 99% of his will is made out to charitable organizations. This isn't juts about money, it's about how a society treats its unfortunates.

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In the States, I often would give out a few coins or a dollar or two to the homeless, especially around the holidays. In Japan, I'm told not to do this since it's "their fault" they live on the streets. I pass through Shinjuku everyday on my morning commute and can't help but feel for these poor homeless folks.

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Cultivate good friends & relatives while able to depend on when incapacitated tho' it be high investment low return.

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