I came back to stay with Matsuyoshi san again for a couple of nights from last night. Since I have to work too, I am not currently able to do a long unbroken stint of staying with him, but I’m finding that doing it this way gives me time to take in and process what I learnt last time. I have noticed since doing this project, how much more appreciative I am of having a home to come back to, a place to spend time alone and relax – a space and place of my own. There is an expression in Japanese ’居場所がない’ (ibasho ga nai), which means not to have a space of your own, and I thought that would be a fitting name for this project.
When I got to Matsuyoshi san’s patch last night at 9:40pm, he was already in his box and he had set up mine. I called his name quietly but loud enough for him to hear if he was awake and I saw some movement in the blanket that covers his box, probably not sure if he was hearing things he didn’t open up. I called his name again and he unclipped the blanket that covers his box and revealed himself to be studying English with his electronic dictionary. We had a brief chat and he asked me if I wanted to take photos of him, which I did, though I prefer to take candid photos which can be difficult as the camera is so conspicuous, but I went ahead and took some anyway.
Matsuyoshi san went to sleep and I had to go and pick up a book that I had left at a bar in Shinjuku last week. It was about a half hour walk on an unseasonably warm November evening across the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. I took the opportunity to take some photos with this project in mind and only try to take photos of homeless people if I think what I photograph can express something about how I see homeless people as being treated in Tokyoi.e. I wont just take a photo of a homeless guy because he’s homeless, or he’s wearing a funny hat or sleeping in an unusual place etc.
It surprises me when talking to Matsuyoshi san about homeless people, how similar his opinions are to my dad’s, whose comments like ‘they’re just lazy and can’t be bothered to work’ are usually met with my counter arguments.
On the subject of going to the church run foodbanks, Matsuyoshi san says it’s too much effort for him to go there – he may as well just work a little longer and buy his own food, and he says that ‘if people have the energy to make it to the food bank then they have enough energy to work, there is work out there for them, they just don’t want to do it’.
I don’t want to promote these kinds of opinion or generalise homeless people, as I think it’s important to realise that there is always more than one side to an argument. I think the issue of homelessness is too complex to sum up in one statement and the fact that these people may be depressed, or shunned by their family or friends or be suffering from other issues seems to not be considered as particularly important.
These potential issues are often not given their dues and even if the person is in full mental and physical health (which in my experience in not the norm, although I would say that Matsuyoshi san does fit into this category) but chooses not to work but instead to live on the streets, they are still ignored, looked down upon, ostracisedand misunderstood by the majority of the Japanese population (and I think the attitudes are not much different in most other countries), who may not consider the fact that the alternative to living on the streets is perceived by these people to be even worse than being homeless.
Matsuyoshi san ended up on the streets at the age of 62, which also makes it hit home that this could happen to anyone.
He says that his life story was one of running away:
‘..looking back at my life at the age of 62, I thought my life was something runaway. Runaway all the time runaway, runaway from my bossy brother, and runaway from family at the age of 16. I came up to Tokyo and found a job and went to night school. After that when I finished night school I got a job as a sales person and worked for 5 years selling general merchandise 7 days a week. I got fed up with it and at that time (1973) there was some kind of boom for young people to go overseas, so I followed the trend and took off from Japan to go to Europe. Then I ended up in England. I went across Siberia on train and aeroplane, so that was a kind of runaway again.
I just stayed on in England and after 10 years I again ran away from England. I found a Japanese girlfriend and I thought I want to make a life with her in Japan. I went back to Japan first but we lost contact after several months, I didn’t see her again. I couldn’t readjust to life in Japan when I came back. I found myself very useless. Everytime I found a job I soon get fed up with it and leave it again and my life was a repetition of that style. Every job I found was not really what I wanted to do and then I went for gambling. I didn’t do much in my life.
So when I look back at my life, my life was running away, escaping or something. When I became homeless I thought where can I escape from now? I thought the only place is above in heaven…or hell, whichever it is. I thought (about) my life and thought I must make myself something useful. What have I got? I wondered. I’ve got my body, my life, I mean my biological life, so I thought I’m going to use my body and found Sokerissa dancing, I found something to focus on .
I was a fatalist and a bit of an opportunist of course I regret a lot..why didn’t I think for the future when I was young, what I really wanted to do, I should have really given it consideration. Definitely I should have gone for marriage because I believe that human life, the ultimate cause of human life is to carry on and hand down the life, but I didn’t do that…
I think the 2 most important affairs for humans, one is to hand down life just like any other creature and the other thing is to hand down information. Information is a kind of soul. The soul is an amalgamation of all the human wisdom I think. The soul is developing. I am not religious but I believe in god, why it has got to be Christ I wonder. Christ is reality, god is abstract, that’s what connects him with god and to me..’
I will use this story as well as a selection of other quotes from Matsuyoshi san about his life as a basis for the photographic essay. I have put a few quotes together with a few photos. The text wont be permanently fixed on the photos, and I would also like to have it in Japanese too. Here is an example of how it is taking shape:
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