Search Results for: Sanya

Sanya, home to Tokyo’s day labourers and dispossessed

Coverage of Japan invariably touches on a variety of regularly trotted out cliches, but arguably one constant is that of a modern, affluent nation. A country that despite its lost decade(s), still benefits from a relatively low unemployment rate, along with an enviably first-class infrastructure.

It’s an approach that admittedly contains a fair bit of truth, but what it also does is brush over the increasing number of people who aren’t aided by any of the above — a large number of whom haven’t done so for quite some time too. And while it’s not difficult to find poverty in many parts of Tokyo (let alone the country as a whole), around Taito-ku, in an area once known as Sanya, it’s starkly and depressingly obvious.

Sanya, Tokyo

Photographs from this area have appeared on Tokyo Times before — images that are troubling not only in the plight of those featured, but in the potentially voyeuristic element of photographing the dispossessed and homeless in the first place.

It’s an argument that I’ve wrestled with, and one that understandably is often debated on photography sites and forums. But as ethically dubious as such photos can be, with next to no coverage of these problems, both in Japan and elsewhere, it also seems equally questionable not to publish them — even if it is only on a website like this, rather than in a newspaper, or on a site of note.

So here, without further justification or explanation from me, are the rest. All of which were taken in a short space of time, in the space of a few streets.

Sanya, Tokyo

Sanya, Tokyo

Sanya, Tokyo

Sanya, Tokyo

Sanya, Tokyo

Sanya, Tokyo

Sanya, home to Tokyo’s desperately poor day labourers

On the surface, Japan, despite its well documented, and now worsened, economic woes, still appears very wealthy; a place where lots of people continue to enjoy the rewards of those hard-working, bubble creating, businessmen and worker bees.

Dig a little deeper, however, and several very different layers of society can be seen, with a large number of those at the very bottom of the pile, in Tokyo at least, living in a part of the city once called Sanya, but which is now merely a section of Taito-ku. An area where incredibly grim-looking rooming houses abound, a large number of shops are boarded up — particularly in the wretched smelling shotengai — and those that are open for business have noticeably large stocks of instant noodles for sale.

Frequented by mostly day labourers, in what I believe is the biggest such district outside Osaka’s Kamagasaki, it’s hard to say what the population is, especially as it must be a very transient one, but what is for certain is that many of the men are of a certain age, and have a certain look.

Sanya, home to Tokyo’s working poor

Along with a life that appears to involve lots of wandering about.

Sanya, home to Tokyo’s working poor

Plus waiting, whether it be for work, washing or simply a way out.

Sanya, home to Tokyo’s working poor

Although as far as the latter is concerned, the opportunities must be very few and far between. The only real option for any kind of escape, at least when there’s a bit of money about, understandably coming through booze; bought and consumed where they are feasibly only a day or two away from — the street.

Sanya, home to Tokyo’s working poor

Kamagasaki: Japan’s biggest slum

Osaka’s Kamagasaki district rarely makes the news, and when it did the other week, it was only because a film made to shed light on the area’s poverty was pulled at the last minute by the Osaka Asian Film Festival — the irony of which was clearly lost on the organisers. But, for Japan’s largest slum — the name of which doesn’t officially exist anymore — that’s presumably nothing new.

‘Kamagasaki,

Home to approximately 25,000 people — absolutely dwarfing Tokyo’s equivalent, Sanya — the area is a far cry from the neon-lit, modern image of Japan’s sprawling urban centres. Although as a cruel reminder, Abenobashi Terminal Building, the country’s tallest, now looks down on the district and its residents with cold, unseeing eyes. Just like the city that sanctioned it. A nameless place, with faceless people.

‘Kamagasaki,

Ever since Japan’s post-war economic growth, and particularly the 1960s, Kamagasaki has been a destination for the poor to go in the hope of work as a day labourer. And as such, the Airin Labour and Welfare Centre is a key location and gathering point. A horribly unwelcoming building where increasingly older men sit and wait with all their worldly goods.

‘Kamagasaki,

Each and every one of them patiently hoping the day will be a good one, and they’ll get some work.

‘Kamagasaki,

But at the same time, it’s a place filled with anything but hope. Just desperation and extreme poverty.

‘Kamagasaki,

Kamagasaki’s other main hub, if one can call it that, is Sankaku Park. A small, triangular-shaped dust bowl surrounded by cheap, grotty accommodation.

The park’s focal point is a TV. Locked up and turned off most of the time, its viewers are restricted to brief morning and early evening viewings — the sumo, when we there, offering some much needed escape. Arguably the kind of social control that wouldn’t be out of place in an Orwellian nightmare, although in many ways that’s exactly what Kamagasaki is.

‘Kamagasaki,

Apart from the TV, pretty much the only other escape is the ever-present booze, and the no doubt just as present, but not as visible, drugs.

Yet despite its horrendous poverty, and the shuffling, beaten nature of so many of the residents, Kamagasaki has a distinct sense of community, along with an openness rarely found in Japanese cities. People smiled. Talked. Even offered us just bought beer that a day’s work had mercifully supplied. And, most of all, seemed to look out for one-another.

‘Kamagasaki,

A few favourite photographs from 2012

With 2012 coming to a close, it’s time once again to post a few of my favourite photographs from the previous 12 months. A year that saw me, with camera in hand, criss-cross the capital on countless occasions; each and every time hoping to preserve a special moment or emotion. A quest that, it goes without saying, generally failed, but it was always fun trying — always will be too.

But whether in some way successful, or simply special to me, these are my favourites. They aren’t in any special order, just divided into monochrome and colour, with each set laid out chronologically. Also, clicking on a photo will take you to the original post.

And together they wrap up Tokyo Times for 2012. So, until January, all the very best for 2013!

Mount Fuji in black and white

Japanese Shogi players

Tokyo homeless

Sanya, Tokyo

Japanese cowboy

Iseya yakitori

Japanese farmer

old Tokyo street

Japanese nationalist

Japanese plastic umbrella

Japanese penis costume

Japanese school haikyo

Japanese playground

Audrey Hepburn in Japan

lonely Japanese beach

Tokyo’s dark underbelly: The poor. The drunk. The destitute.

There are many popular images of Tokyo, but extreme poverty generally isn’t one of them. In the east of the capital, however, in an area once known as Sanya, that’s exactly what you see.

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

Photographs from Sanya have appeared on Tokyo Times before, but at the time I was under the impression that it was home to a large population of day labourers and the desperately poor. An equally destitute little sister of sorts to Osaka’s much larger, Kamagasaki district.

But I was wrong, at least in regards the work aspect, as it seems there simply aren’t any jobs to be had anymore. The gradual ageing of those who scratch out an existence in the area means there’s not much they can physically do, so instead the men must attempt to get by with what little money they may be entitled to — or at worst with whatever handouts are available.

Thankfully there is at least a small clinic run by an NPO. A place where the men can get help, as well as help out.

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

For those with the means, cheap accommodation can also be acquired. Wretched looking rooming houses that despite their obvious squalor, are clearly a blessing for those who stay in them.

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

Also there are some cheap and basic facilities dotted about.

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

But primarily it’s a life lived — in one form or another — on the street.

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

And quite understandably, drink is the only real means of escape. The cheaper and stronger it is the better. A road to oblivion that starts early.

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

Meaning that by the time noon rears its heavy head, things are already getting ugly. Resulting in scenes that in Tokyo, during the middle of the day, are really quite shocking.

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

Tokyo poor and homeless in Sanya

Yet such episodes sadly aren’t unusual in Sanya. Quite the opposite in fact. An element I’ve tried to capture by taking the photos on just a regular, random day. All of them shot within an hour, within an equally narrow radius. Not as a means to preach. Or to judge. But simply to document.

Tokyo’s childless streets?

When walking round Tokyo’s entertainment districts, or struggling once again to get on a horribly packed train, it’s hard to imagine that the country’s population is getting smaller. Yet shrinking it most certainly is, with fewer kids and more old people tipping the country towards a worrying imbalance.

A demographic shift that could well result in more scenes like this — one that offers us a look back into the past, as well as forward into an uncertain future.

Japanese side street