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