Homeless people run tourist information booth in Sapporo


The requested article has expired, and is no longer available. Any related articles, and user comments are shown below.

© 2011 AFP

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

Interesting. For years the homeless of Japan didn't even officially exist. Then you consider that when they were around in certain parts Shinjuku, for instance, they were quietly shipped off to someplace less conspicuous, i.e. having them in plain view of visiting foreigners and so on was "bad". Now we have the homeless as city guides, representing Sapporo in a way. Would have been absolutely unthinkable even 10 years ago.

Should certainly help increase the number of tourists - not!

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

@godan -

“I hope that the information desk will help people discard their prejudice against homeless people and provide homeless people with a social connection,”

Thats the goal, but your last line would indicate it might be more difficult than people believe. Give them a chance!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Hats off to Sapporo for this bold and terrific idea. I make it a point to buy the Big Issue magazine every month from as many different homeless men as possible, and always try to engage them in conversation. Many are decent and gentle souls, often very funny. This is an original win-win idea that should be applauded, and possibly imitated by other countries.

Godan, your sarcasm is mean and incorrect: the program was never meant as a way to increase tourism.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Am I the only one person here who finds the concept stupid as hell??

Using homeless people without paying them is what I call exploitation Do these homeless speak English?? (not all tourists are japanese you know)
-9 ( +2 / -11 )

@majimekun It is an attempto give them a broader chance to gain income. Although technically unpaid, they can gain commission on sales of "Big Issue" which is actually a good read. They wouldn't get this platform (which will provide some warmth) without tourist board and local government support. It isn't a handout, and the people involved will need to have some drive to be successful. As for English, hmmm - maybe you are right, Chinese and Korean would also be useful. I guess they should also have a background as a Somellier too so they can direct us to the best restaurants serving the best wine?

Its a start, lets give them a break, no-one else is bothering.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

All good points, gyouza. Any positive action in the face of staggering apathy (especially one approved by a bureaucracy) should be saluted.

As for the language issue, of the "millions" of tourists in Sapporo each year, the vast majority are Japanese (80-90% I'd guess). I'm quite certain there are other information booths for overseas tourists who don't speak Japanese.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@majimekun "Using homeless people without paying them is what I call exploitation " Why don't we let them decide that ? They don't need you to speak for them. If they don't want to do it, then they can quit any time, they are not slaves. I agree with Ben, this is a great idea. "Do these homeless speak English?" Most Japanese don't speak fluent English so what's the difference ?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@majimekun - I'd guess the officials higher up would find it hard to sanction giving them a salary (the idea being so unorthodox at the moment), but agreed to see it as a kind of volunteers initiative. It's a foot in the door to changing attitudes, and if that happens then it can only be a good thing. Plus, their exposure to thousands of tourists has a good chance of doing exactly that. Interacting and seeing that homeless people are not strange or to be frightened of will change attitudes. Another plus, they are indoors away from the cold.

As Ben says, there are more Japanese tourists than foreign tourists in Sapporo so they don't need to speak English or any other language (and anyway, it's Japanese attitudes this initiative is trying to change).

BTW, one of the Big issue sellers I buy from in Shinjuku speaks English - small talk at least. Good on the Big issue for doing this. Merry Christmas.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I guess prejudice against homeless people in Hokkaido isn't as rough as in that crazy Tokyo, where teenagers get together to do nothing but to find any homeless to try their new baseball bats on them.

0 ( +3 / -2 )

Homeless people often lost the will or courage to engage in society. This is a good step to bring them back into it. I find it to be a great idea besides no tourists will know that they are homeless unless it is advertised which I would in turn find cruel to them, let's hope not.. Interacting with tourists is great too because tourists are happy people who appreciate getting help in an unknown territory and for the homelss this is also known unknown territory which will certainly boost their confidence.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

should read:tourist will NOT know

0 ( +1 / -1 )

this is awesome news ^o^v go japan☆

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Ability to speak English is not the 'be all and end all' of man's existence in this vast universe (and there may be millions of other universes, but that's another topic). Like other posters have said- 'most Japanese don't speak fluent English' and 'there are more Japanese tourists than foreign tourists in Sapporo', so not being able to speak English is not an issue at all. We ought to look at this idea as half full not half empty.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Hopefully these homeless people wear clean clothes and bathe regularly. A homeless guy hanging around an underground shopping area at my station reeked like you wouldn't believe, even though I was about 5m away.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Well, all the reactions above is what make me sick in the actual human society. People always marvel at tiny lazy steps when much more could be done. I'm sorry to insist but these guy should have gotten a real salary paid by the city. I don't see what's so difficult about it.

The "it's better than nothing" attitude is what's killing our human society, it's what make things never happen in the end. Same thing happens with global warming, financial crisis, etc. We can't radically solve problems because people are happy enough with tiny steps.

A radical mentality change needs to happen everywhere in the world ... otherwise, we are doomed.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

My guess would be that those 5 people are either currently on SSI or compensated in another way, this sounds like a retraining project more than anything to get them back into work-force.

Admirable project to take people down and out and retrain them into a new career with employment prospects.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The booth, in keeping with the theme was made completely of cardboard. One of the staff commented that "just the smell of tourists made me sleepy".

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

They are "hired" to do what Im guessing is a full time job by the city but they get no salary? They only get a cut from the 300 yen magazine. How big of a cut? Lets say the city is REALLY GENEROUS and gives them a 50% cut (I doubt it is that big), then they make 150 yen. And then I guess some big sign goes over their heads declaring how the city is "hiring" these homeless people and helping them. In other words the homeless are exploited. If this were a legitimate job, theyd have the dignity of being employees not having the city toot its horn all over the nation that these people are homeless. If I were homeless, I think Id say keep your 150 yen and shove it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I don't like the fact that they do not actually receive a wage, not even a small one that gives them enough money to feel they have a job, but not so much that they won't consider moving on.

Not liking that, I will deride the whole idea just as soon as somebody puts up their own money and organizes something better. Until then, I will salute the fact that somebody has done something for the homeless, even if its not perfect.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Anything that builds their confidence and gives them a chance to make some money is a great idea!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I admire the idea of helping the homeless but them not receiving a wage is not good at all. It's like the idea of better than nothing. Imagine the city has to hire tourist info attendants, It should cost them more. There are many govt projects out there. The homeless could be hired for Tohoku cleanup and other things Sapporo needs. In my country, we have "Food for Work" program. If there are disasters, ordinary people without any jobs or the victims themselves can work for food (this excludes help from the Social Welfare and NPOs so it helps them live their normal lives) To honest, Japan needs more compassion. Sometimes I feel they should open up their hearts a little more.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


Am I the only one person here who finds the concept stupid as hell?? 1. Using homeless people without paying them is what I call exploitation 2. Do these homeless speak English?? (not all tourists are japanese you know)

The same system is used in the overseas city where I live. As far as I know, it's entirely voluntary.

In answer to your question though, it would appear that you are the only person so far.

I think homeless people helping themselves and the rest of society is a good thing.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

If I were homeless, I think Id say keep your 150 yen and shove it.

Ahh, 7777777, that is a pity, as these people often don't have the choice of turning down 10 yen. But this is not exploitation, and moreover, it is not a handout. Also, it is not the City providing the money, it is the magazine "Big Issue". Giving homeless people money is not the answer, giving them a chance to get on their feet is. Sure, selling one magazine won't help, but how many can they sell? How many have you bought? It is a good read, and some very good articles in it, always a famous name on the cover. The side business of town guides can reallyhelp their self esteem if nothing else. The lack of feeling they are needed by society is also a big part of their burden. I say give it a chance to succeed. Can't hurt can it?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Gyouza, Im all for giving them a chance but a legitimate chance. The homeless & unemployed are very vulnerable to being taken advantage of. My husband was unemployed for 2 long years & was diligently searching for a job all this time, but to my surprise out of the woodwork came all these "do gooders" who would contact him with "opportunities" & when he contacted back what they wanted was for him to do free or very low pay labor or do a weeks worth of work and get a box of cookies in exchange. It is humiliating and degrading for a man to have worked for a good salary and then have people devalue him to this extent. These are jobs that people would pay anyone else good money for but when you are not working all of a sudden people think "you have free time so you can work for me for free"! Yet when he was working no one had the audacity to make such "offers". It would be a terrible insult. Yet that is what unemployed people face. I know lots of other unemployed people who have experienced the same thing. But then take a homeless person and you probably have to multiply that scenerio by a 100. Yes, the homeless are in a desparate situation but that is ALL the MORE reason to treat them with dignity and legitimate opportunities. I doubt they make 150 yen off a magazine. They may get 10-20% off each sale. If they spend their time selling these magazines how are they going to get a regular job? They need real job opportunities to get them back on their feet. They don`t need someone tossing pennies at them and then patting themselves on the back. They may be homeless, but that does not give people the right to take advantage of them.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@7777777 I beg you to buy a copy of the Big Issue next time you see one - judge by the content if it is a worthwhile cause or not. They have managed to get people back on their feet in the UK. It really is a good setup and worth the effort with follow up support. I was so happy to see them start up here (Tokyo). I agree with you that there people out there taking advantage, but I truly believe this is not one of those schemes.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I'm curious about homeless people who reside in cities that experience harsh winters like Sapporo.

Most homeless folk I hear qualify for public housing and on-going welfare payments but choose a 'life of freedom' on the streets? is anyone better informed about this?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Gyouza, I have no intentions of going to Sapporo just to buy this magazine. I dont have the time or money to do that. Nor do I intend on buying a magazine that exploits and takes advantage of its employees. Basically what I want to say is a company should pay the homeless the SAME as any other person. To look at the homeless as an opportunity to get free/dirt cheap labor is wrong. If this magazine is so great then it can pay the homeless an honest wage. And if they are going to use the homeless as a means of advertising and marketing their product, then they should pay the homeless that price too just like they would pay a person to be in a commercial or a famous person to appear in their product line. Why is it that they would pay someone else to use their name or appear in their advertising but the homeless dont count? Why is it they would pay someone to deliver their magazines & sale them but the homeless dont count? The homeless just get the crumbs. It is WRONG! Thats the "big issue", people taking advantage of the economically vulnerable!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )


You can buy the "Big Issue" across Japan, bought my copy yesterday outside the local station here in Tokyo. This is produced by a nation-wide NPO, try talking to one of the sellers, each has a good story to tell.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Gyouza should be @777777.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Thanks It"s ME!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites