Hard Knock Life;
a homeless man speaks
The blue tarpaulins of the
homeless community have become an establi-shed feature of Kansai
cityscapes. But very few non-Japanese speakers have an opportunity
to converse naturally with members of the Japanese homeless community.
Earlier this year, the Midori Group interviewed a homeless man living
in Kyoto as a part of a bilingual documentary project.
I am from Ehime prefecture. I was born in 1969: I'm thirty-four
years old this year. I left home in the year 2000. To begin with
I went to Fukuoka City, but now I live in Kyoto. I've been homeless
for three years in total. I live in a small hut under a bridge on
the Kamo River. Four friends each have a hut under the same bridge.
I earn my living collecting aluminium cans. I do that from Tuesday
to Friday and I go to different places, each about thirty minutes
away by bike. On other days I basically rest; but sometimes I go
to other areas to look for cans, lie down, rest, take a nap or read
books in the Old Palace grounds.
I usually rest alone. I don't set out to be alone,
but that's how it often turns out. On Tuesdays, I wake up at around
six a.m. and eat leftovers from my meal the night before and I cook
rice and have a small meal at about three or four p.m. Then I go
to the park and rest an hour, from six p.m. From seven o'clock until
midnight I collect my target weight of cans. By midnight I have
generally attained my target weight of cans, but even if I havent,
I take a rest at midnight.
Usually I rest in the Old Palace grounds. I sleep
better there than I do in my hut. I sleep until four a.m. and then
start work again. I collect another four bags of cans before six
o'clock. Then I return to the park with my cans and after that I
go from one set of garbage bags to the next, early in the morning
and this is the most crucial time: from six o'clock until ten o'clock.
On Wednesday mornings I hide my cans behind a
public toilet, and on Thursdays under a bridge and at some other
place. Then I take the cans to a place near my hut, where the vans
collect them. Until then I have to prevent the cans from being stolen.
My friends and I call the aluminium dealer to collect our cans.
After we hand them over, I can rest until early evening.
Our pay depends on how many cans we've collected. Roughly speaking,
I collect 130-140kg a week, at 85 yen per kg. So... that's just
over ten thousand yen per week.
Even when things were hardest I never supposed that I might become
I like sake very much, so I was always going to bars and to Karaoke.
I also like Pachinko. And so I gradually borrowed more money from
moneylenders. At that time I was working for a local chain store,
which meant that I could borrow money easily, because it was a steady
job and so on.
Once you get into debt, the lenders treat you
terribly. My grandmother had a toy shop in my hometown. I wasn't
enjoying my job, so I returned home and started work in the shop
with my father. But he and I had different ideas about how to run
the business... it wasn't satisfying and I began to seek fun after
Running the business was hard and we ended up
getting a loan. We borrowed maybe twenty million yen. My own personal
loan was three million yen. We sold all our property to pay off
the business loan. But even then I owed money myself. So I was driven
into a corner and left home in a fit of despair. I hated being hassled
by the moneylenders. In hindsight, I probably should have consulted
a lawyer to solve our financial problems by declaring bankruptcy.
It's really a pity that I didn't do that.
When I first went to Kyushu I survived for a week by merely drinking
water from the tap of a public toilet. Then a security guard told
me I could get a bento box past its sell-by date from a convenience
store. In Kyushu I slept rough in a bus terminal for six months.
I really think that people should help those who have recently become
homeless before their situation becomes as serious as mine.
I speak with my mother by collect call. My father passed away. I
called my mother this morning for the first time in a month, to
see how she's doing. I've told her that Im involved in the collection
of waste materials, but I haven't told her that I live under a bridge.
Well, maybe she understands my situation from watching programmes
on TV about the homeless. But she hasn't asked me directly, so I
haven't told her about it. I have no relationship at all with old
friends. I can't and won't call them.
I wan't to go back home before my mother retires
in two years. But I really don't want to return empty-handed. I
can't go home with nothing to show for myself. I ran a small business
so I'm known to the people of my hometown. So Im hoping Ill be able
to start a family business back home. But I'm trapped in a rut right
now. Having said that, I do have some positive ideas. I'm only thirty-four
years old, so I'm still young; I couldn't be so easy-going if I
I'd like activists to come and see us often and talk to us without
waiting to be asked. It's best for people to speak to us as equals...
not in a conde-scending kind of way, but just like friends. Anyone
could lose their job now-a-days, so people ought to understand our