Homelessness in Japan is perhaps not as visible as in other major cities around the world, but it is still a social problem in cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. While statistics show that homelessness in the country has fallen over the past few years to reach a total of 9,576 people in 2012, many of the people who constitute this demographic are older men, often in their fifties or sixties, unable to find employment or find a means of breaking the cycle of living on the streets.
This article from MSN Sankei News discusses the case of two homeless men who live near the entrance of Kyoto Station. Their case is presented as one which causes a public nuisance that the local government is unable to act upon due to “human rights”, which is a stark contrast to how stories on Japanese homelessness have been reported in the West. While the stench of human excrement is potentially not all that pleasant for the people who pass by the station’s Hachijo entrance, it seems that these are two men who refuse to remain part of an often invisible social group.
From MSN Sankei News:
Excrement Smeared At The Entrance To “Kyoto”, Pungent Stench…Though “Out Of Order” Kyoto City Won’t Act Because Of “Human Rights”
At JR Kyoto station (Shimogyo ward, Kyoto) which is the entrance to the ancient capital, Kyoto, on the city land around the Shinkansen-side exit (Hachijo gate), a few homeless people sit around, defecating and generally making a nuisance of themselves. JR Tokai, who are left to clean up, do dispose of any waste, but even at calls for improvement from within the company itself and successive complaints from customer, the city remains unable to come up with a suitable strategy to deal with the problem. Since this is an area inside Kyoto JR station, it right in front of the space in which school students on field trips and parties of tourists gather. Now, as Golden Week approaches, when many tourists will visit Kyoto by Shinkansen, there is a concern that this badly affect Kyoto’s image as a city of tourism which attracts 50,000,000 tourists throughout the course of a year.
A Smell That Makes People Grimace
On the night of April 2, the rain fell, scattering the cherry blossoms in full bloom. In the area around the entrance and exit that faces the Hachijo gate on the south side of the free passageway that connects the north and south side of Kyoto station, an awful, rancid smell hangs in the air.
Though the rain washes along the ground, it does little to remove the peculiar stench of urine. Alongside the walls, elderly men lie on the ground, their bodies wrapped in plastic bags and blankets, right in front of the space where schoolchildren and parties of tourists gather.
According to Kyoto city council, the two men began living in the city space beneath the north-south passage way that cuts through the station just over a year ago, and smeared their excrement over the walls. A spokesperson said that there are people who support them by supplying them with food, and that one of the men lives there all the time, while the other comes occasionally. Sometimes their urine also runs into the elevator.
Even At Calls For Improvement, The City Won’t Budge
In an agreement made in 1997 between Kyoto City and business people, the passageway is owned in sections by Kyoto City, JR Tokai, JR West Japan, and Kyoto Station Buildings Ltd., and is operated and maintained by these companies. Kyoto City has left the maintenance of the problem area of city-owned land which faces the Hachijo gate on the south edge of the passageway to JR Tokai. A subsidiary company of JR Tokai also manages elevators and escalators, as well as cleaning of the space.
JR Tokai, which cannot neglect the current situation, maintains that “Considerable discontent has arisen on grounds of health and safety, since we are unable to clean the area appropriately” and that “We cannot maintain order of the north-south free passageway”. In June of last year (2012), they proposed to Kyoto City that the state of affairs be improved. Since then, whenever the dirt starts to stand out, or complaints come from customers who use the passageway, the company has requested countermeasures from the City. Negotiations were held time after time, but this did not improve things in the slightest.
Situation Also Affects Maintenance Of The Area In Front Of Kyoto Station
According to a spokesperson for JR Tokai, there have also been opinions from customers using the passageway that say that “The Shinkansen is the pride of Japan. ‘Protection of Human Rights’ is no reason to continue supplying tramps with a place to sleep”. “The person in charge of welfare at Kyoto City council, who sees the issue as one of human rights, is clearly in denial”, the same spokesperson said angrily.
Although the person in charge of city maintenance for Kyoto City, said that “We are negotiating, and this includes with the welfare division of the council. We want to consider countermeasures in coalition with JR Tokai”, strong countermeasures such as forced eviction of the men would involve human rights issues which would include how to accommodate the men in a new place, and therefore it seems they are hesitant to take action.
Still, on the fence that faces the bus station on the same city land, carrier bags and cardboard boxes that appear to be the belongings of other homeless people are secured with chains, and are blocking the way of customers who pass through.
Kyoto City is creating city plans such as reducing the number of traffic lanes and increasing the number of walkways that face the Hachijo gate, as well as creating a public space on the southern edge of the north-south free passageway, and construction will start from this year. The space which is being occupied by the homeless men is also included in these plans, and it seems that before long the council will be faced with a difficult decision.
Comments from 2ch.net:
What the hell? This is scary.
Waaah, this is just the worst.
Isn’t this an issue of public hygiene rather than a human rights issue?
The JR shouldn’t go to Kyoto City, they should get to the police!
They’re not humans when they cause trouble for other people without giving a shit about it. Deal with them appropriately!
You can’t call them people anymore.
In other places they just mercilessly dispose of their cardboard houses!
The homeless people in my ward use public toilets properly when they need to go to the toilet.
They’re “sick”, so just put them up in a public hospital.
Supporters shouldn’t just bring them food, they should also take care of their arses.
You often come across this kind of scene in China.
A lot of homeless people are mentally handicapped, so shouldn’t they protect them under the name of human rights? If they really do have a learning difficulty, in a lot of cases the homeless person won’t really know what they’re doing wrong.
They’re not all that different from stray cats, and those idiots are giving them food?
Doesn’t public good take priority over a single person’s human rights?
If they can only behave like animals, doesn’t that make them animals?
Let them live at City Hall!