Tokyo's homeless boast their own upscale neighborhood


O-uccino, a realtor based is Tokyo's Shimbashi district, is well known for its annual rankings of the places in the metropolitan area where people find most appealing to live. The appearance on such a list -- or disappearance -- may have a lot to say about changes for better or worse in conditions of the area concerned.

For instance, in O-uccino's 2016 listing, the Kichijoji area in Musashino City -- a long-established presence on the list -- was dropped. And last year's leader, for both for single-unit dwellings and condominiums, was Tokyo's Setagaya Ward.

The top 10 in the respective categories (in Japanese) can be viewed here.

But a writer for Weekly Playboy (March 6) asked himself: What if someone were to conduct a survey of homeless people in the metropolitan area? Where would they say was the best place to flop?

The question appears to be rhetorical, because the writer is convinced he has already stumbled upon the answer: the neighborhood most appealing to Tokyo's lumpenproletariat would be on the Tokyo side of the Tama River, near Rokugo Dote -- the last station on the Keikyu Line before crossing the river into neighboring Kawasaki, and close to National Highway 15.

Once known as "Rokugo no Watashi," the area was, until a bridge was finally built several years into the Meiji Era, a ferry landing where travelers on the old Tokaido ("eastern sea road") that linked Edo and Kyoto would cross the Tama River.

"This area's extremely popular with the homeless, and you can find the largest concentration of them in the entire Kanto area," remarks investigative writer Umu Murata.

Skeptical at first of Murata's claim, the author uses Google Earth to focus in on the neighborhood along the riverbank, and sure enough, the number of homes that are obviously occupied by such individuals almost resembles those inexplicable crop "mystery circles."

Taking the Keikyu local to Rokugo Dote, the reporter passed through ordinary neighborhoods, where squatting is illegal. But as he approached the river bank, he spotted an area with heavy undergrowth, through which narrow trails resembling wild animal tracks could be seen, and soon he found himself in a neighborhood of some 50 ramshackle houses.

Unlike the places where homeless flop in other parts of Tokyo, the construction materials were not blue plastic sheeting or cardboard, but real wood, and from their appearance, quite robustly constructed. Among them were edifices with doors, which contained not only simple furnishings but TV sets, radios and even refrigerators.

"What's the appeal of this area?" he inquired of a resident.

"Well, I can only speak for myself," came the response from a man who appeared in his 40s. "But it seems that the local city office finds it difficult to enforce regulations against squatting." He puffed away on a "Short Hope," a budget-brand cigarette.

"I'd lived before in Hiroshima and Osaka, and the local governments there were always on my case, saying 'We'll help you find a job,' and so on, and you can give up being homeless.' I guess maybe because here is on a sort of no-man's land between the road and the river, it's not clear who's supposed to be in charge so they leave us alone."

Another man, who appeared to be in his 50s, raves at the warm comradeship he's found in the neighborhood.

"When I first came here, one of the locals built me a home out of steel piping. He does this for almost all the newcomers, and he's well known for building spacious and robust houses."

"Getting along with other homeless people is surprisingly difficult," a 10-year resident of the neighborhood observes. In most places they hardly talk to each other. But at Rokugo Dote, we've got a nice group. None of them are drunks and hardly anyone has a wild streak."

A man in his 60s with a spacious yard then appears, carrying eggs. He keeps his own chickens, a breed with black bones called "ukokke."

"Their eggs are really tasty. I eat them over white rice," he grins.

Aforementioned writer Murata believes as the 2020 Olympics approaches, it's likely the city's homeless will be rounded up and forced to vacate their regular haunts.

"I suppose the word will get around and more of them will head for this area," he predicts.

© Japan Today

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Had to look that one up. Important to remember that many, not all of course, older homeless are that way because they don't want or can't afford to spend their pensions on housing

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Strictly speaking, it does not seem that the residents of Rokugo Dote are "homeless".

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Here is a photo of one of the homeless encampments close to Rokugodate Station (六郷土手):

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Thanks, Sensato. I wonder how much longer until 7-11 opens a convenience store on the corner! They can count on patronage from the golfers who go down to the flats by the river to whack their balls as well.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

weekly Playboy really is a top class paper.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They can count on patronage from the golfers who go down to the flats by the river to whack their balls as well.

Better than having it done in Roppongi, I guess.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

the construction materials were not blue plastic sheeting or cardboard, but real wood, and from their appearance, quite robustly constructed

They are not much different from some of the old wooden shacks you see here and there that are supposed to be proper houses but look more like garden sheds.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I hope they will be left alone. What's the point to cleaning them up and out for the Olympics? Seems they are quite responsible, established, and harming no one at all. Live and let live in this case. Tokyo does not have to be Disneyland for the Olympics.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Looking at Sensato's photo link, I wonder how prone they are to flooding.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Looking at Sensato's photo link, I wonder how prone they are to flooding.

Around that section of the Tama River it's little more than a trickle, maybe 30 meters wide even during the rainy season. I crossed over the river in Sept. 1974 aboard the Shinkansen, just after a very wet typhoon that filled the Tama all the way to the elevated dikes on both sides, and overflowed in parts of Kawasaki City. Quite an inspiring sight. I don't think it's happened again since then, but we all know Mother Nature can be capricious. Still, a fairly rare occurrence, and there would be time for the authorities to take proactive measures and order an evacuation.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Thanks, Laptop. You're probably right. But from the photo (and Google maps) it's hard to tell whether the homes are between the river and the dyke, or outside the dyke. I know those patches of undergrowth are often intended to take overflows during heavy rain. I'd hate to think those people's hard work could be easily washed away.

I stayed in a training center nearby for a couple of weeks in 1980. I was treated to the sight of huge numbers of ayu jumping in the river. Fond memories.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I was going to say something about their use of the term "upscale", but compared to skid row in LA, it is.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Do we really need judgmental terms like 'flop' and 'lumpenproletariat?'

These guys are doubtless happier than the sleep deprived masses on the hamster wheel.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@albaleo I actually walked around that area of the Tama river, and honestly had no clue those shacks were the homes of 'homeless' people, they are however, in between of the dykes and the river.

@Laptop_Warrior the point of the Tama river they are talking about in the article appears to be ~120m wide according to Google Maps.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

''Lumpenproleteriat''? Interesting definition. According to Marx, the definition of a lumpenproleteriat ''a beggar, prostitute, swindler, those deemed outcasts of society.'' In fact, ''lumpen'' means ''miscreant''. Because they've essentially become outcasts of society, we're supposed to feel sorry for them? I mean, what's the raison d'etre of this article?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@lolozo79 Some articles are plain interesting. I find articles about dropouts from society who have alternate living styles interesting, especially if they are living in some sort of order. I'd be glad to read other articles of how the "homeless" cope with life, where they are located, and an introduction to the biggest ten homeless areas in Japan. Articles don't need to have deep political or philosophical meaning to be interesting. I'd also welcome articles on declining populations in Japanese rural areas, and on repopulating of the same areas.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

it looks like a little bit of country in the city, just was on google earth myself... Not Bad at all if you like camping out

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ha ha love it...but to bad that one day they'll be kicked out and have to conform.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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