Why Japan’s Homeless are Different from North America’s (Part 1)
This. This is the image that has been stuck in my mind for years. Here I was below the massive towers of the Tokyo metropolitan government building and I came across this blue tarp with solar panels on it. This was quite a scene for me. That’s because back in Vancouver, where I lived most of my adult life, I was used to seeing scenes like this. Why were the visible homeless I encountered in Tokyo so different? Thus started my search into understanding why the homeless in Japan are different than the homeless in North America. Where I started to find answers was in the research work of professor Tom Gill. My name is Tom Gill, I’m from England. But I’ve lived in Japan for about 25 years and I’m a professor of Social Anthropology here at Meiji Gakuin University, Yokohama Campus. There are a number of things about Japanese society which makes it a lot easier to deal with homelessness than in other industrialized countries. For a start, the level of drug abuse is much lower in Japan than a lot of other countries. It’s pretty difficult to get hold of hard drugs in Japan unless you know a Yakuza, a gangster who will supply you. And for the most part guys who become homeless in Japan don’t do drugs other than tobacco and alcohol. Yes, there are a substantial number of alcoholics in the Japanese homeless population. There are also a considerable number of compulsive gamblers and of course, even if you are getting Livelihood Protection Money, if you spend it all on alcohol or horse racing in the first couple of days of the month, you can still end up on the street. Another important factor is that Japan has a very conservative approach To treatment of mentally ill people, who are generally institutionalized. If you look at statistics for mental health in Japan, you are much more likely to be put away in an institution if you have a mental health problem. We never went through the processes that were called “mainstreaming” in America and “care in the community” in Britain which are both kind of code words for shutting down mental Hospitals and Letting mentally ill people out into society and Which might have seemed like a good idea and something- some liberal people did support that move but unfortunately there wasn’t the backup to follow what happened to these people after they were let out and a certain number of them ended up being on the streets, and that’s one of the reasons why you have a lot of people with mental health issues in the homeless population in many Industrialized countries. Then a third factor is that Japan has managed to keep out of wars and conflicts since the end of World War II. So as a result, traumatized war veterans, which are another large component particularly of the American homeless population- we don’t have that in Japan either. Where are homeless people? Urban parks, riverbanks, streets, station buildings, and other buildings. So the kind of archetypal situation where you’re walking along the street and you encounter a homeless person is a lot less likely to happen in Japan because a lot of them are not in that part of the urban space. Most of them do try to keep clean. One of the reasons why they tend to gather in parks is because they generally have public toilets and washrooms there which helps you to maintain a basic level of hygiene. On the question of begging: it’s true that very few homeless people in Japan beg. Far more likely, as a way of making a bit of money, is can recycling, and sometimes newspaper and magazine recycling, but that’s the main way for putting together a little bit of cash. Why they don’t beg? I think there are push factors and pull factors. Japanese are disinclined to beg. They’re also disinclined to give to beggars, and these two things go hand in hand. In countries with a strong Christian tradition, or indeed a strong Muslim, or Hindu tradition, giving to the Poor is deeply ingrained in the religion and the culture. There’s nothing quite like that in in Japan so People are less likely to give money to beggars. I mean, they’re not used to being begged off. It’s a “chicken-and-egg” situation, really. The fact that you know, it’s shameful to beg and you don’t want people to know that you’re homeless you don’t want people to know that you’re unable to look after yourself. Pride, shame. Yeah, these are also factors I’m sure you have many questions about homelessness in Japan and I did as well. It’s a very complex topic that touches on many parts of society. As such, this is just a single video as part of a bigger series about homelessness in Japan that I’ll be making, so stay tuned for that. I have to give special thanks to professor Tom Gill, who’s so knowledgeable and so generous with his time, so thank you for that! And a shout out to my patreon supporters who make It possible for me to make videos like this; videos that aren’t necessarily so popular and videos that do take time to research, so thank you for that and as always: Thanks for Watching! See you next time, Bye!