If you read my post yesterday you will know that I’m currently making a photo documentary with Matsuyoshi san – a 68 year old homeless man in Tokyo. I initially started this project for two reasons, the first and main reason being curiosity about the homeless community in Tokyo and the second was a motivation to help Matsuyoshi san in some way.
My idea was that I would (and still plan to) sell prints of photos taken in Tokyo, and a proportion of the profits will go to him to help him get into a better financial position. However, this project isn’t an attempt to pity or even raise awareness about homeless people. It is just a story about a man who has an insight and is giving me access into a world that I have been interested in since I came to Tokyo.
I also would like to mention for people that don’t live in or haven’t been to Japan, that the streets of Tokyo are incredibly safe, and the homeless situation is quite different and I think much safer here than in most countries.
I arrived in Shinjuku at around 8pm last night and met Matsuyoshi san by his regular sleeping spot, where he had saved a patch for me – fortunately there was an Adam sized space between him and the next guy down. He introduced me to the two other guys staying on the same patch as us – Minami san and Nagasa san. Nagasa san is 56 years old and has been homeless for 20 years, which I have since learned is about the longest anyone around here has been on the streets. Minami san is around 40 and has been on the streets for a few years. They both have part time jobs as cleaners, but the work doesn’t pay enough to be able to afford housing, though welfare does seem to be an option but for reasons of their own they choose not to go that way.
I bought my own boxes with me, that I acquired free of charge from my local supermarket and was going to attempt to make my own cardboard room to sleep in, but Matsuyoshi san had already knocked one up for me, which I was quite relieved about as I was starting to get a feeling that box making might not be as easy as it looks. I laid the extra boxes that I had bought along on the ground to make it a bit softer, which with the added cushioning of my roll mat was as comfortable as any camping experience I’ve had.
Despite the comfort of my box, I barely slept and am writing this with my brain at about 10 percent of it’s usual operating capacity. I think I paid off a big karmic debt from my teenage years as I was kept up for about 3 – 4 hours by skateboarders making what can best be described as a bleeding racket. As anyone who has ever slept with me (in a platonic way) will know I am an incredibly light sleeper, and although I almost managed to trick my brain into believing that said racketwas waves breaking on an extremely close and rough ocean shore, the constant woody clamour of skateboards on the floor kept reminding me that I was in a box in Shinjuku.
Matsuyoshi san’s 5:30 alarm went off far too soon after I did eventually pass out. We packed up our boxes and took them to the storage area that Matsuyoshi san has made between some bushes and a wall on a bridge which goes over the walkway to Shinjuku station. He keeps all his belongings in boxes in there and it’s quite impressive how much stuff he has managed to keep hidden from view.
We then walked to the park to do some morning exercises – a short warm up on the exercise machines in the park followed by Radio Taisou (exercises done usually in the park to a soundtrack of instructions with a backing track of classical music, by groups of mostly elderly people dressed in white tracksuits) for 10 minutes.
The rest of the morning was spent chatting in Mcdonald’s for a couple of hours, Matsuyoshi san then went to the library as he does everyday when it opens at 8:45am. He has quite a fixed daily routine – at around 10am he will go the 100 yen shop and buy 3 items for lunch, which will usually includes a sweet potato and eat it in the park, then goes to pick up his stock of Big Issue magazines from his storage area and sells them at the exit of the walkway that goes out of Shinuku station towards the Government Towers, until 4pm (he chooses how many hours a day he wants to sell). Each copy sells for 350 yen and he keeps 200 yen from that, and aims to sell 10 copies a day to cover his daily expenses.
We both went our own separate ways after breakfast, and met up later in Shinjuku and spent the evening chatting with a group of homeless friends of Matsuyoshi san in their regular evening get together spot. They were all friendly and welcoming and had more questions for me than I did for them.
The most vocal of the group was a guy in his sixties called Koshizawa san, who worked as a TV camera assistant in his 20s, he was also apparently a key figure in Soka Gakkai (a ‘buddhist’ sect in Japan who have around 10 million members apparently and are treated with suspicion by most non members) before he ended up on the streets. He introduced Matsuyoshi san to sokerissa – a dance group for homeless people set up byYuuki Aoki, which has become a big part of Matsuyoshi san’s life.
At 8:30pm in keeping with Matsuyoshi san’s routine, we went to collect our boxes and sleeping gear and set up our boxes once more for the night. We both brush our teeth by our boxes then go into the public toilet to wash. It was nice and peaceful as I got into my box…but clearly my karmic debt is yet to be paid off as just as I got comfortable the clatter of skateboards returned, but I was so tired it could just as well have been the crashing of ocean waves and didn’t stop me falling into a nice deep sleep.
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