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Dec 2003
Issue 043

KS Classifieds out NOW!

William Kremer

A member of the Midori Group, and co-director of the Group’s new Internet documentary, "Kyoto Poverty".

What is “Kyoto Poverty”?
“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, it’s 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.

Who is the film aimed at?
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. It’s my hope that the guest book will become a kind of ideas forum for this issue.

Why did you decide to make this film?
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 don’t want to buckle down to steady employment.

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.

Youko 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.

What were the main challenges in making the film?
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.

How does the homeless situation in Japan compare with that of your home country?
I’m 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 isn’t 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.

What was the strongest impression you had about the people you interviewed?
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 don’t really want to speak generally! The main thing I’ve 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 Group’s website, www.kyoto-poverty.org, will be launched on December 1st, 2003.

Text & Photos: Courtesy—Midori Group


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William Kremer A member of the Midori Group, and co-director of "Kyoto Poverty".