As I mentioned in my last post I slept well on the second night sleeping on the street in Shinjuku, but on waking the thing that made it most difficult to feel relaxed were the sounds. I wear earplugs but there is something discomforting about waking up with the sounds of the city all around, I felt exposed and as though I didn’t have my own space.
Matsuyoshi san likes to get up at 5:30am, so he can make it in time for the radio taisou exercises in the park. Nagasa san apparently will sometimes stay in his sleeping bag (he doesn’t use a box, even on the coldest winter days) until 7 am when he will get politely woken up by the street cleaners telling him ‘sumimasen asa desu’ (excuse me it’s morning). They prefer to sleep where they do as opposed to inside the station, because station staff would wake them up at 4am, so it’s a compromise between a slightly warmer and more comfortable environment and more time to sleep.
If you take a walk around the Government tower in Shinjuku you will see small areas where homeless people store their belongings and the authorities seem to tolerate it. A couple of days ago Matsuyoshi san found a notice from the local authorities saying that they have to move and can no longer sleep there, but there was no final date on the notice, which made us think that it was just scare tactics, so for now he will stay where he is but has another place in mind in case he has to move, though it is more exposed and he would prefer to stay put if possible.
Apparently there can be trouble when someone new turns up and they don’t know if a patch is taken or not, but things quickly get sorted out. I have found all of the people I have met so far to be quite respectful and obedient to the rules and law and if told to move on I get the feeling that they would do so seemingly begrudgingly but obediently.
The homeless guys in the area only get moved on once in the year, which is during the Tokyo marathon, otherwise they are tolerated and have pretty much made certain parts of that area their own. There was one other time that they were moved off of their patches that according to Matsumi san was an indication of the low esteem in which the majority of Japanese society holds homeless people – which was on March 11th 2011, the day of the Great Eastern Earthquake. All the homeless people were told to clear the area to make space for the people who were unable to get home due to the disruption in public transport services.
After the morning workout in the park, we followed Matsuyoshi san’s daily routine and went to McDonalds for breakfast and chatted for a couple of hours about the homeless community and had a look at some of his photos from his dance group ‘Sokerissa’ on their facebook page and also came across a video (can be seen here) of him dancing a few years ago, which he was very critical of, as he told me that his dance style has developed a lot since then. He thinks it’s boring as there’s not enough movement, I disagree..
Matsuyoshi san has travelled all over Japan and recently to Brazil with Sokerissa. The dances are sometimes improvised and other times he will receive a story/poem from his coach and will be given some time to interpret the words into a dance, which will then be performed. He says that his dedication to dancing is down to his desire to be able to do more with his body and from a lifetime of running away and not having anything to show for his years. Dancing is a way to commit to something and have something to show for his life.
I was curious as to why he continues to live on the streets when he would be eligible for welfare. I am unsure about the specifics but it does seem to be a possible option. When I asked him about it he told me that his family would have to be informed and it is a big stigma in Japan to have a family member on welfare, so he chooses to be independent.
He also told me that many of the guys on the street have savings but prefer freedom to comfort. When I asked ‘freedom from what?’ he replied ‘from management’. So it is not so clear cut as to why a lot of people in Tokyo remain homeless and what is stopping them from getting off the streets, but it seems like for some (at least in Shinjuku) it is a choice of sorts.
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