Michael Wolf Photography

No Homeless in Japan??

Roaming through Japan for the last 3 days I haven’t seen a single person laying on the street, or begging for money.

When I first arrived in Tokyo, zipping through the city on a bus from the airport, the first thing I noticed was the clean streets. Sparking. Spotless. Glittering.

The entire city pieces together seamlessly, like a huge puzzle with a blank face, and this kind of organization that settles with dust that knows its place. I gawk at their self-disciple to walk on the left, stop to smoke, eat, and drink, sort out their garbage into 5 categories, and take care of their appearance.

(Of course there are exceptions to this, there always is, but in GENERAL for goodness sakes!)

The next thing I noticed was the missing panhandlers and street sleepers that come with cities. BIG cities.

Where were all the homeless people in Japan?

After roaming through the city for three days, in crowded and quiet places, I could not spot a single person who appeared to need a place to rest their head that night. Was it possible the Japanese had solved the issue of homelessness?

A quick search on Google and I knew it was too good to be true:

“It may very well be a cultural thing, but homeless in Japan don’t interact with regular people. There is no pan-handling or begging here. You can often see them sifting through garbage and collecting huge bags of empty aluminum cans, or simply sitting around with a jar of sake or can of beer. ” — Kyle Fennell (Quora)

“Just go to an internet cafe and you’ll see the homeless there. They’re known as Cyber-homeless (サイバーホームレス / saibaa houmuresu) or Net café refugees (ネットカフェ難民 / netto kafe nanmin). These are people who are stuck in low paying jobs such as cashiers or other service jobs, and can’t afford to rent an apartment. They resort to living in 24-hour, internet/manga cafe that is essentially a little cubicle with computer/internet access. Originally used by folks who missed the last train home, they’ve become a semi/permanent home for these homeless. For $15–20 per night, you have internet/TV/manga books, soft drinks, snacks, shower and a room to sleep in. This is less than the $25–40 for a typical capsule hotel. These people get dressed in the morning and go to work so they don’t look like the typical homeless, but they are homeless.” — Isaac Hsu (Quora)

After reading a few more articles, it was clear.

Homelessness exists (in Japan) just not the ‘in-your-face’ kind of way.

Instead they’re usually hidden away from the public, in cardboard boxes or makeshift tents that can be easily taken down during the day.

The photographs make my heart throb, saddened by the fact that homelessness is such a taboo issue, hidden away like the dust in busy streets, masked by the waves of the required cleanliness.

Homelessness is an issue that makes my eyes tear, maybe there are other issues that make yours tear, but for some reason homelessness feels so wrong, so inhumane; to walk past a suffering human being. A cold, hungry, and helpless person. It feels so wrong to know they’re living in a cardboard box while I can’t wait to go home to my vegan mac n’ cheese while scrolling through Medium with my $5 membership that I afford comfortably.

And I know I am not doing enough, with my $2 coins, or $5 bills if I’m feeling especially giving, little head nods, small talk, and past volunteer excursions.

I know it’s not enough and maybe it’ll never be, but it’s important that I try.

So here’s an article that will hopefully make you rethink homelessness.

If you’re thinking of helping, please check out:

OR check-out your city’s local food banks and shelters if you don’t live in Japan.

Thank you for taking the time to read this piece. This is day 16 of my 30 day writing challenge.




Currently: Post-Grad Crisis

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Kim Ng 🙆🏻‍♀️

Kim Ng 🙆🏻‍♀️

Currently: Post-Grad Crisis

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