Seen yet ignored

Brad Rozairo, OMI –In Japan, if you do not have power, money or are not successful, the society will look on you as if you are an “unwanted guest”. I do not think that anyone would want to be an unwanted guest, but sadly there are many in Japan.

I remember in Kobe city, when some of us were cooking lunch for the poor at a park, a homeless man standing next to me said that the present society considers homeless – the word he used was “gomi”, meaning garbage. When you read the newspapers or articles about the poor in Japan, you get to understand the sad stories of the “unwanted guests” in Japan.

In 2019 when a huge typhoon tore through eastern Japan, many people were forced to go into the evacuation centres. A homeless man tried to get into an emergency shelter, but was denied entry because the shelter would accept only the registered residents. The poor man was forced to brave the storm with only an umbrella, which later on led him to the hospital.

A couple of years ago a man was charged by the police for striking a homeless woman with a bag of rocks causing her pain, so that she would leave the bus shelter where she used to spend the night. The suspect had told the police that he offered her money so that she would go away, but when she refused the offer he became angry. What the homeless people expect most is acceptance and recognition, not money. Giving a few coins to a homeless person may be a charitable act, but the intension in doing so should not be chasing the person away.

In Tokyo, the police arrested a man for allegedly setting fire to the baggage of a homeless man. At the time of the incident the man was not in the vicinity, but later he found his burnt belongings. When TBS News interviewed him, he said, “Well, I’m disappointed. I never thought my belongings would be set on fire. My sleeping bags, blankets, underwear and trousers — all the stuff I collected is gone”.

This man was arrested for setting fire to homeless man’s belongings

When I was living in Kobe, I used to join a volunteer group once a week at night on homeless patrol. During that time, I have noticed some sleeping under a bright light. One of them told me that when there is light around him, he feels safe because he had been the target of some unruly mobs.

Homeless people have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Kochi, a major city on the island of Shikoku initially excluded the homeless from the cash handout program, which was introduced by the government as part of the coronavirus response. Why? because some people in authority assumed that most homeless people belong to organized crime groups, and also they do not have identity documents to open bank accounts. This situation forced the local authorities to open a special counter so that the undocumented people could receive money. Many homeless people have also struggled to have access to vaccine and have become vulnerable to the virus. The social exclusion of the poor in the Japanese society has worsened the situation of the homeless especially after the pandemic.

Let me end with this note. A homeless man once told a clergyman that he prays every night before going to sleep. The clergyman asked if he was a Christian. The man said he did not pray to God – he just prayed that he wouldn’t wake up!

Separators are often added to benches in public spaces in Japan to prevent the homeless from lying down on them to sleep
Bench of the park which the sunlight lights up

The number of homeless in Japan stands at 3,992. But, many would argue saying that the actual figure may be larger because today there are new types of homeless people, hiding in internet cafes or in other facilities. —Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: (January 2020 survey)

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