If times are hard for the working and domiciled population, imagine how pinched the homeless are.
"In the old days,” Weekly Playboy (Sept 8) hears from a homeless man sifting trash bins near Tokyo’s Ueno Park, “there was all the thrown-away fast food a man could eat. Sashimi leavings and tuna heads too. Now,” he sighs, “it’s nothing but garbage.”
That’s only to be expected. With food prices rising and ecological awareness growing, fast food outlets and convenience stores are throwing away less, shrinking a key food source for the homeless.
“There were always good pickings of leftover sushi around here,” says a homeless man in his 50s in Tsukiji. “Now I’m lucky if I find some rice.”
But Weekly Playboy makes an interesting discovery. The often noted “kakusa shakai” -- the widening gap between rich and poor -- is as apparent among the homeless as among those with fixed addresses. In short, relatively speaking, there are rich homeless and poor homeless.
In 2004 Metro Tokyo decided to get tough with the homeless. Their free and easy days of living in tents in city parks were declared over. A two-year program was instituted to “clean up” the city and get the homeless into publicly-supported low-rent apartments. But life between four walls is not for everyone. The trickle back to the streets has been steady. With park tents still banned, the available options amount to very rough living indeed.
Worse, day jobs are less available. “Lately,” says a homeless man receiving a handout of boiled rice in Sumida Park, “young people registered with big job placement agencies are bagging all the day jobs. Same with collecting aluminum cans. The price has gone up, so companies are getting in on the act. It’s very hard.”
It’s much the same over in the Takadanobaba neighborhood. “If the day-labor recruiter doesn’t know you, you’re out of luck,” laments a man who evidently speaks from experience.
“Crisis? What crisis?” grins a man in his 60s sunbathing in Yoyogi Park. Contentedly he pats his protruding belly. “The guys who are having trouble are the ones who don’t know the ropes, that’s all. Us old-timers are doing fine.”
Weekly Playboy finds others in the same happy boat.
“I don’t eat garbage,” declares another man in his 60s. His territory is around the Ameyoko market near Ueno Park, and tough times or not, he seems to do well enough at the neighborhood fruit stalls.
“Just today,” he says, “I got hold of four slightly damaged grapefruits and a pack of grapes. And there are guys who manage to get their hands on bread. We trade with them. No free boiled rice handouts for us. I couldn’t eat that stuff, it’s awful.”
Some homeless are positively moneyed. One, a man in his 70s, collects a 140,000 yen-a-month pension. If he lives on the streets, it’s not because he has to. He enjoys it. “Over the past 10 years,” he says, “I’ve traveled all over Japan. A while ago, through connections I have with a support group, I got a free public transportation pass. I go all over Tokyo, wherever they’re handing out free rice. It’s my hobby. You just don’t have this kind of freedom when you’re living in a house!”
In short, sums up Weekly Playboy, “you can’t simply lump all the homeless into one category and call them ‘the weak members of society.’”
At a suburban train station, one of the magazine’s reporters spots a man sprawled on a bench.
“I come here in the morning and stay here until night, lounging at my ease” he says. “You’re not so fortunate, now, are you, young man?”© Japan Today