Our vendors: Keiichi Egami (The Big Issue Japan, Tokyo)

By Ryang Ja Kim, The Big Issue Japan

One of Japan’s great commercial and administrative centres is Shinjuku [in central Tokyo]. And it is there that 50-year-old Keiichi Egami sells The Big Issue Japan at the west entrance of the bustling Keio Department Store.

Unfazed by the muggy heat, he stands, looking cool and collected.

He has been selling the paper for four months. I ask him what he looks forward to the most. His face breaks into a wide grin: “Selling The Big Issue Japan.”

Egami in front of the Keio Department Store at west entrance of Shinjuku Station. Photo: Kazuhiro Yokozeki

Egami was born in Takashima located in Nishioki on the Nagasaki peninsula [in western Japan]. When he was a boy, he and his little brother went fishing all the time and played by the sea. As a result, he became quite the swimmer. “If you told me ‘Swim!’ I could swim forever,” he says.

When he was in grade school he saw a naval escort ship docked at the Mitsubishi shipyards in Nagasaki port. It captured his imagination such that he knew he wanted to sail on one of those ships one day.

After graduating high school he went straight to the Maritime Self-Defense Forces recruitment centre. He was stationed all over the country and was even sent overseas. His dream had come true and his days were fulfilling.

After that, he was drawn to working with computers, which had been a hobby of his. He got a job working at a company that made websites. Back then, computers were expensive he says. “Computers like the NEC PC98 [released in 1982] cost about 500,000 yen for the PC and display set.”

Nevertheless, he learned on his own and polished his programming skills. But the economy took a turn for the worse and the company went bankrupt. He worked as a temp and also as short-term help at factories, moving from place to place.

He landed a contract position at an automobile factory in Tochigi [north of Tokyo]. But one day they told him ‘We won’t be requiring your services anymore.’ He was at a complete loss. It was around that time he became homeless.

But Egami didn’t give up. He kept looking for work. “Life is precious and rather than falling into despair I thought I better go do something,” he says.

“There was still so much I wanted to do, and I wanted to enjoy my life. Somehow, I was able to find work.”

“Life is precious and rather than falling into despair I thought I better go do something.”

It was four years ago when he came to Tokyo. He found work at a restaurant with living quarters. He worked there for two years but the hours were long and the stress wore him down, so he quit.

Next, he took a stab at selling ramen noodles at an outdoor stall by the south entrance of Shinjuku Station [Tokyo’s biggest railway station]. Regular customers began coming by and things were starting to look up. But the building of the parent company caught fire and the employee dorms also burned down so he had no choice but to quit.

He became homeless again. Then one day, as he was wandering aimlessly around Shinjuku Central Park, when he happened across a flyer for The Big Issue Japan. He decided right there on the spot, “I have to give it a shot.” He walked straight to the office.

He became a seller and his first spot was in front of Ichigaya Station. Customers began talking to him and, suddenly, he really got into his work.

Keiichi Egami sells The Big Issue Japan, Tokyo. Photo: Kazuhiro Yokozeki

Egami, who likes reading and writing, adds a novel he wrote to each issue of the magazine he sells. “The cost of the magazine went up to 50 yen,” he says. “By doing this, I add value to the customer’s purchase and I want them to be happy with their purchase.”

When ask about his work policy, he replies, “Sales or no sales, no matter what, I stand out there from 7.30am to 5pm every day.

“When I reach my goal for the day sometimes I just want to go home. But the time I set aside for work is for working.

“I mean, that’s what having a job is all about, right? I want to do a good day’s work before going home.”

So what is it that drives Egami? For him, it’s all about the customers.

“I want people to remember my face and I want them to know they can count on me to be in the same spot at the same time, and that they can buy the Big Issue Japan from me there,” he says.

“I can’t wait to get regular customers, to the point where they feel comfortable chit-chatting with me.”

“I’m giving this all I’ve got… I want to do my best selling The Big Issue Japan.”

Each day after work, he walks to the office to buy next day’s issues to sell. After buying dinner, he goes to the same internet café every night and goes to sleep. Recently he started using Twitter and found some other newspaper sellers and various friends.

Egami hopes to visit the Tohoku region [a region of Japan’s Honshu Island, best known for its volcanoes] one day: “From Tokyo on southward I’ve been pretty much everywhere. Now I want to go north. I like travelling.”

As for the future, one of his dreams is to write another book. “Recently I haven’t had money to buy books so I never read anymore,” he says.

“I want to become independent some day,” he adds. “But for now, I’m giving this all I’ve got. I want to do my best selling The Big Issue Japan.”

I ask, what drives him to work so hard? “My customers and the thought that I’ve got just one life.

“I don’t want to abandon it to despair.”

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