A member of the Midori Group,
and co-director of the Groups new Internet documentary, "Kyoto
Kyoto Poverty is a documentary about homelessness made
speci-fically for broadcast on the Internet. It was shot on DV in
the summer of 2003. Basically, its a day-in-the life of one
homeless man in Kyoto City. The documentary (www.kyoto-poverty.org)
will be totally free to watch.
There will be a few interactive elements; for
example, viewers will be able to choose to watch extra clips and
graphics to provide more background information on homelessness
in Japan. There will also be a links page and a guestbook.
Well, everybody! Of course, it is meant to be enlightening to the
Japan-ese public as a whole, but we thought it might be especially
interesting to students and young activists. Since it's a very personal
account, we're hoping it will counterbalance an overly bookish education
in social issues.
Furthermore, the documentary and website are both
in English and Japanese. This was something Youko and I were keen
to do from the start. We both feel that non-Japanese people living
in Japan can have an enormous impact on Japanese social issues.
For example, I used to work as a teacher in an
English conversation school. Well, what do we make conversation
about, after we have finished talking about our favourite movies
and Ichiro? Sharing ideas with people from other cultures makes
us look at familiar problems in a new way. We are also hoping that
activists living outside Japan will watch the documentary. Homelessness
is a worldwide phenomenon, after all. Its my hope that the
guest book will become a kind of ideas forum for this issue.
I had heard some very suspect remarks about homeless people from
Japanese friends and acquaintances. The prejudice is generally that
their condition is some kind of lifestyle choice, or
that they are simply lazy and dont want to buckle down to
In order to counter such ideas, Youko and I were
very keen to show homeless people working hard trying to earn money.
We are hoping that Kyoto Poverty might be a starting
point for people to become more involved in the homeless issue.
We were also keen to make the focus of our production Kyoto, rather
than Osaka. Of course, the problem of homelessness in Osaka is very
serious, but as yet homelessness in Kyoto has attracted very little
research or publicity.
has devoted her life to this issue in myriad ways. I think this
production provided her with a new avenue for her zealous activism.
For my part, I was angered by some of the things I heard from acquain-tances,
and I wanted to prove them wrong.
Also, I think it is very important for foreigners
living and working here to actively engage in Japanese social issues.
It is not enough to criticize Japanese society from the sidelines.
Well, a big challenge lay in researching the documentary. All the
people we met were extremely friendly and courteous, but they were
understandably wary of the filmmaking process. Some of the activists
had had some bad experiences with reporters before. Many of home-less
people wanted to conceal their identities because they were worried
about being traced by moneylenders. So it took a while to develop
trust in the community, and we had to be very careful of where we
pointed the camera.
However, that was simply because Youko and I
were making a film. As I say, most of the homeless people we met
were friendly and keen to talk off-camera. The homeless community
is not nearly as enclosed as most people believe.
Im not really qualified to answer that because I was never
involved in this kind of work in the U.K. However, a few things
are very obviously different from London, and Leeds, where I went
to university. Firstly, it is very rare to see homeless people in
Japan beg, whereas in the U.K. homeless people are often referred
to simply as beggars.
This isnt meant in a derogatory way; that
is just the only way a lot of people back home can get money. In
Japan, casual labour is more readily available: now-a-days people
collect cans, in the past there was more construction work around.
But the arrival of the Big Issue in the U.K. did give
a lot of people a chance to work.
Another difference is that in Japan homeless people are generally
much older, and there is a lower quota of homeless women than back
home. Any such criticism demands some kind of action.
Generally speaking, the people we met were very friendly, and talked
openly about their lives. I was struck by a real lack of cynicism
from the community. But I dont really want to speak generally!
The main thing Ive learnt from this project is that the homeless
community is exactly that: a community, as diverse as any other.
Of course, there are certain things that bind
homeless people with one another, but these are practical, rather
than psychological considerations. The differences amongst them
are greater than the differences between them and the general public.
Midori Groups website, www.kyoto-poverty.org,
will be launched on December 1st, 2003.