Asian Studies Conference Japan

Saturday, June 19 - Sunday 20, 2004
Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University

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 Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

Session 13: Room 208

The Controversy on Homeless People in Japan

Organizer: David Malinas, Paris I University / Hitotsubashi University
Chair: Nanami Inada, Ochanomizu University

Japan was later than other developed countries concerned by the phenomenon of homelessness. However, this issue became quickly a central urban, social, and political concern as the presence of homeless people in the streets of post-bubble Japan steadily increased from the beginning of the 1990s. This panel, exploring past and recent cases from different of areas Tokyo and Osaka, gathers different researches on the controversy and misunderstandings concerning the situation and choices of homeless people. Yusuke Kakita’s paper will present, as an introduction, the latest data concerning this population that challenges some common misunderstandings concerning homeless people. The second paper presented by Shingo Tsumaki will analyze the "choice" of homeless people to stay in the street despite reinsertion programs. His conclusion, based on interviews, challenges the common deviant labeling of this behavior. The third paper by David. Malinas will present a social movement that opposes homeless people; it will focus on the strategies chosen by homeless people to oppose authorities. The fourth and last paper presented by Keishiro Tsutsumi will present an anti-homeless social movement related to the so-called Nagai park problem that occurred in 2000 in Osaka. He will analyze how citizens dismissed the poverty issue and put to the front other arguments to oppose the construction of a shelter. These different papers try to explore from different points of view the situation of homeless people. They aim to fuel with critical perspective a debate concerning homeless people in Japan.

1) Yusuke Kakita, Osaka Prefecture University
Rough Sleepers in Japan: Characteristics, Processes, and Policy Responses

According to the first National Survey of Homeless People in Japan conducted in 2003, in which the presenter participated, more than 25,000 people sleep rough in Japan. The term "homeless people" refers to these rough sleepers. This paper tries to disclose the characteristics of rough sleepers in Japan by analyzing the national survey results. In addition, it will analyze the process and trigger factors that produce rough sleepers. Secondly, the paper will discuss policy responses to rough sleepers, especially safety nets extended to them such as public assistance. Roughly speaking, based on the results of the survey, most of the rough sleepers are male, middle-aged or elderly people. The average age is 55.9 years. The proportion of female rough sleepers is quite low, occupying 4.8%. Two-thirds of the rough sleepers live by collecting cans, etc. Many of them passed unstable lives, being employed as day laborers at construction sites before becoming rough sleepesr. As they got older, coupled with the economic recessions, they lost their jobs, a stable source of wages, and homes. Consequently, they had no choice but sleeping rough. The survey also revealed that local and national governments in Japan have not extended sufficient safety nets in the form of public assistance. It is important to strengthen the policy response and to prevent the emergence of more rough sleepers in the future.

2) Shingo Tsumaki, Osaka City University
The Preference for Homelessness Categorized as "Refusal of a Decent Civic Life"

Recently, Japanese authorities have enforced measures to support the societal reinsertion of nojukusha (Japanese outdoor sleepers). Support center programs attempt to get them out of homelessness by giving them access to jobs or social welfare support, and giving them an "appropriate" place in Japanese society. These measures clearly show the existence of nojukusha who reject this program and remain on the street. They are categorized as "people who refuse a decent civic life," and they become the targets of pressure and exclusion.

If their "preference" is reasonable for them, what is the logic that sustains this choice? This presentation attempts to examine the logic of their "preference." Based on survey data, I describe the process and state of nojyukusha street life. This data consists of survey data for 672 nojukusha and life history data for 722 nojukusha. I conclude that nojukusha "preference" means "resistance" because their street life is patterned both by the necessity to survive in the street and by an ethic: "We should live our lives by working for ourselves." Nojukusha, who have been excluded from the labor market, find that it is impossible for them to get away from homelessness by getting a job. For them, the support center program offered by the authorities means a whole life depending on social welfare services. The street life is the only one available that conforms to their ethic. It is then the only reasonable preference

3) Keishiro Tsutsumi, Osaka City University
The Homeless Issue and Citizens: What was Shown and What was Hidden in the Course of the Nagai Park problem

From the 1990s, the number of homeless people has increased, especially in urban areas. Facing this situation, Japanese authorities have progressively taken measures. At the same time, and in many areas, conflicts between local residents and homeless people have increased. Many "incidents" have been reported, including the beating of homeless people and protest movements by local residents against the construction of shelters for homeless people. The style and frequency of these incidents is a sign. It shows the lack of clear direction about how the homeless issue should be understood. Citizens are still confused concerning the way they should deal with the close proximity of homeless people and "blue tent." That is the reason why citizens’ attitudes toward the shelter policy has become a specific but difficult issue. Regarding civic confusion and the difficulty of the issue, the case of the Nagai Park problem is of particular importance. Nagai Park is a large park located in Higashi-Sumiyoshi ward in Osaka city. The Nagai Park Problem refers to a protest movement by nearby residents against the construction of a shelter for homeless people beginning in July 2000. My presentation focuses on the way inhabitants clarified their view of the problem through consecutive conflicts. I show that this movement made an important point in hiding neatly the fact that the Nagai Park problem was also a problem of poverty. This presentation is based on interviews with local residents and handbills made by the opposition movement.

4) David Malinas, Paris I University / Hitotsubashi University
"No to the Moving sidewalk!" Homeless Mobilization against Eviction, Shinjuku 1996

As the number of homeless people increased in the beginning of the 1990s, eviction became the common policy of Japanese authorities. What made the Shinjuku case different was the long-term collective resistance that occurred. For more than six months, homeless people and their supporters fought against the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's will. On the final eviction day, more than 800 policemen and guards forcefully evicted some 200 people – homeless and supporters – resisting pacifically by a sit-in. This event, broadcast on national television and reported on the front page of national newspapers, had a decisive impact in enforcing a new policy toward homeless people. However, such a social movement appears as a highly improbable event. Homeless people are poorly endowed in resources – money, time, know-how – and, however they appear as a whole toward the people who wanted their eviction, the homeless "world" is highly fragmented and competitive. As a matter of fact, their first eviction in 1994 prompted no resistance. This presentation will focus on two points: the importance of external supporters who supported the political claims of homeless people and the formation of the first homeless organization in Japan, the Shinjuku Renraku Kai (SRK). It will also examine the strategy chosen to resist and fight back the eviction policy decided by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. This presentation is based on interviews with still active leaders and homeless people and on an analysis of handbills and books written by the SRK. It uses resource mobilization as a theoretical framework.

Discussant: Thomas Gill, Meiji Gakuin University


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