October 12, 2013
Homeless In Japan
Japan probably isn’t the first country you’d associate with rampant homelessness, and that’s probably fair. Although there are a lot of extremely wealthy people in the country, and also a good number of people who don’t have a lot of disposable income, the imbalance between rich and poor that we see in some places in the West isn’t quite as stark.
From what I’ve seen, most towns or cities don’t have the unnecessarily huge houses with gated land in one area, and what borders on squalor not far down the road (as in a lot of countries). People seem to live either in a house, which almost uniformly are three or four bedrooms, or in an apartment. Some of the apartments are pretty damn small (including mine), and they aren’t all kitted out with space age gadgets. But in terms of the residential areas themselves, there are very few of the sort of run down communities that make you wonder how a wealthy country can allow its people to live like that.
The number of actually homeless people in Japan is estimated to be around 10,000, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Compare that to another developed country, Australia, and the figures seem pretty small. Japan has more than five times Australia’s population, yet the number of homeless people in Australia is estimated to be ten times bigger than Japan at 100,000 (various sources). In fairness, I have seen some statistics that put Japan’s homeless population at as much as 100,000, and the Japanese government may have been conservative with their estimates. But even if the figure were as high as 100,000, that would still have them compare favourably with Australia given the difference in population size.
One striking thing I have heard about the homeless population of Japan is their efficiency and self-sufficiency, even in adversity. Many like to try and earn a living rather than depend on handouts, and actually I don’t remembering encountering a single ‘beggar’ in my whole time here. They can make money from enterprises such as collecting plastics and other recyclables and cashing them in for a bit of money.
They also build accommodations that, although very flimsy and temporary in terms of structure, do provide a home of sorts. It may just be cobbled together from plastic sheets, wood, cardboard, or trash metal, but it is somewhere to retreat to. They also use generators to provide electricity for their structures.
One other difference between Japanese homeless people and those in other countries is increasingly becoming the relative old age of those in Japan. Japan has an ageing population in general, and the problem is combined with the fact that employers are very reluctant to take on older employees. Despite laws against such discrimination, the practice still goes on, probably even more so than in the West (where employers still try to get around laws, but not as successfully). It has traditionally been the job of families to take care of their elders. But I have heard that this tradition is changing and that younger people are more reluctant to do so, in some cases.
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