The Ghosts of Tokyo: Homelessness in Japan

A glimpse of Tokyo's homeless men and the efforts to keep them hidden.

| Fall 2015

  • Tokyo is two sides of a coin. One side is tailored suits, high fashion, flashy Lamborghinis, and skyscrapers. If you look just a little deeper you can see the somber other side: the prostitutes along Dogenzaka, the homeless at Yoyogi Park, the empty beer cans and sake cups that litter the station as soon as the workday ends.
    Photo by Flickr/Jim Fischer

There is magic drifting in the air here on the southeast side of Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward. Ribbons of early-morning sunlight are streaming down onto the half-log benches, and chirping crickets seem to have been tricked into thinking that it is dusk, as the thick canopy of yamazakura—mountain cherry trees—let in little light.

Nearby, a man stirs from his slumber. There is a piece of cloth covering the bench on which he is lying, a newspaper beneath his head, a cap over his face, and an array of well-packed bags on the table next to him. I watch as two police officers approach him. After a short exchange the man puts on his shoes, packs up his meager belongings and walks away. All around me, on every other bench in this section of the park, there are men sleeping.

It is early autumn, and the leaves are just beginning to change color. Currently under its most conservative and military-oriented government since the Second World War, and recovering from the global financial crisis, Japan is going through a fairly tumultuous time. You would not know it, though, as her citizens carry on with their lives as usual. The trains are packed with workers every morning, trees play music from hidden speakers, and escalators speak to you in calming tones as you ascend. The single outward sign of instability is the growing number of homeless men sleeping on the footpaths and benches.

A decade ago there were over 25,000 homeless in Japan, with nearly a fifth in Tokyo alone. In just five years Tokyo’s homeless population doubled. Although recent estimates show that the figure could be decreasing, the uncertainty of Japan’s economic future and the growing geopolitical tension with China may see another sharp rise in the number of homeless in coming years.



Roughly 95 percent of Japan’s homeless are middle-aged men. Homelessness in Japan is deeply rooted in gender differences. In a country where the man is the sole provider for most families, companies expect young married men to work harder and will often hire them first.


Receive Our Weekly Newsletters


The act responsible for maintaining a minimum standard of living in Japan is the Seikatsu hogo ho. To access this system of welfare, a person must prove that they have tried to the best of their ability to improve their standard of living but remain impoverished. Additionally, as landlords in Japan are reluctant to rent to the homeless, and it is difficult for welfare officers to secure housing and housing deposits, the Seiketsu hogo ho is more likely to be paid to the already housed poor, to prevent homelessness, rather than to find housing for the homeless themselves.

dileepnaik
1/12/2018 4:51:47 PM

There should be a good shelter for homeless people in Tokyo.Japan is a good & rich country.It's a shame that nobody cares about these homeless people.Hope somebody will take a lead & build one for them.Please do it. That's the way to go. Thank You, Dileep from Elkins Park,PA.USA


dileepnaik
1/12/2018 4:51:43 PM

There should be a good shelter for homeless people in Tokyo.Japan is a good & rich country.It's a shame that nobody cares about these homeless people.Hope somebody will take a lead & build one for them.Please do it. That's the way to go. Thank You, Dileep from Elkins Park,PA.USA