Asia: The Big Issue Japan

Since the economy slump, the number of homeless people has risen. Most are male with an average age of 56 and the majority used to be construction workers employed on a daily basis.  The economic downturn has reduced the number of construction jobs, and increased the number of ex-white collar workers. According to the 2003 government survey, homelessness exists across the country. There are 25,296 homeless people in Japan and out of that number 749 are female. There are 7,757 in Osaka, where we started the street paper, and 6,361 in Tokyo. The actual number though is probably higher since many homeless people move around. Many try to support themselves by collecting aluminium cans for recycling as well as other discarded materials that can be traded for money. Females are less likely to become homeless, although numbers are increasing. It is usually easier for women to find a job because their wages are usually less, and families tend to try harder to support women than men. They are also not as isolated as men. The Japanese government has now officially recognised homelessness as a social problem and a law was passed in 2002 to support them. In 2008, the latest survey carried out by the national government indicates that the total number of homeless people has decreased.   However, the number of younger people who sleep at internet cafés etc is increasing rapidly and becoming another big problem.

 What was the impetus for establishing your street paper?

People in Osaka see many people sleeping rough everyday, and they felt that something needed to be done. This support from the public proved to be vital in the beginning. We didn't have much revenue from advertising but had enough money coming in from sales to cover costs.  The response has been really good.

 What impact has your street paper had?

We are going to celebrate our 5th anniversary in September 2008. Undoubtedly we have prompted people to talk about homelessness and forged communication between homeless and non-homeless people. Many people think homelessness is a personal problem, but we are starting to show that it is in fact a societal problem. 

We are getting wider recognition, and now international corporations such as NEC, HP and Microsoft are working with us on developing some of the vendor related projects.

What direction do you see your street paper taking over the next five years?

In 2007, we started a charity organisation providing support to homeless people through job training, health care and recreation.  We would like to create a stronger network with other support organizations and strengthen the support for homeless people.  We would also like to highlight homelessness and poverty as an urgent and important topic for the Japanese society to tackle.

What are the benefits of being part of INSP and what impact has it had on your street paper?

We have received so much help from the all the Big Issue publications in the UK. It would have been impossible for us to create a quality magazine without that support. The Big Issue and INSP's ‘Street News Service' are the main source of our international coverage.  Our Japanese readers like the international articles covering social issues. We have received the comments that the appeal is because those articles are real and cannot be found in other publications in Japan.