The homeless colony in Nagai Park, near where I live, was dismantled on Monday morning, at around 9am. It took a couple dozen cops to haul them away and knock down their blue tarp shelters, the communal table, clotheslines, etc. Monday being my day off, I slept in and missed the whole thing (I would usually be going to work at that time). I had planned to speak to the guys and ask if I could take some pictures to post on Flickr and publicize what was happening – they had been noisily presented with an eviction notice last month, and were arguing back with large hand-painted posters, a press conference, and general “hell-no-we-won’t-go,” civil disobedience. I hesitated because I didn’t think my Japanese was up to it and didn’t want to just turn up and start photographing their living space, like I was at the zoo. So no photos. I didn’t find out about it until the next day, when I read a headline in the Yomiuri Shimbun.
Three days later, there is no evidence that they were ever there: fencing is up, and for all anyone knows (or cares, sadly), the grounds are being renovated in preparation for a huge international track meet at Nagai Stadium this summer. In fact, the last thing the city government wanted was for the foreign press to see Osaka’s homeless problem firsthand (5,000 according to the Japan Times), and they wanted that swept from sight. Homelessness only becomes an issue here when the homeless spoil the view from the office of someone important (like the right-wing governor of Tokyo), or when foreign dignitaries might notice them. Face. This has happened before: when the APEC summit was held here some years back, the police went around with train tickets and told the homeless at Sakuranomiya Park, near the hotel where Bill Clinton would be staying, to get lost for a week. Many of them got on the Loop Line and ended up in other parks, where the already ensconced homeless there regarded them like unwanted houseguests. After a week or so, many made their way back to Sakuranomiya, and everyone could forget about them again.
With the exception of some supporters (who apparently got hauled away with the homeless guys on Monday), the reaction around town to the Nagai clearout seems to be complete indifference. Most people just don’t want to face the fact that 5000 fellow Japanese, mostly older men who can no longer work (or can’t get a job), have to sleep in makeshift tents in parks all over the city. Of course, the press always focusses on the few aging hippies who are doing it because “they want to” or the cracked old geezer, barely lucid, who claims that he’s “happy” picking up cardboard and pop cans for a “living”. There never seems to be much mention made in the mainstream press of the former day labourers who can’t haul a wheelbarrow anymore and have no insurance, pension, or even Worker’s Compensation. These are the men who, in the boomtimes, built the apartments, the (failed) megaprojects and shopping centres around Osaka and now get to sleep on the sidewalks and under bridges, which they helped build too.
Mention this to anyone and they will more often than not say, “It is a problem,” which is Japanese code for “Next topic, please. How ’bout them Tigers!”