A pleasant walk...?
in the Land of the Rising Sun

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Reference Pages Index -- Oniko Goes To Japan Main Page

Japan has many things in common with the USA.
One of the more unfortunate ones is the large number of homeless people -- generally men -- that can be found sleeping in the most public of places. In Japan, however, there seems to be a general tolerance of their presence and they are allowed to claim certain side areas of the streets and portions of the parks and temples for temporary homes. Probably the ability to get most anything they need cheaply from vending machines 24 hours a day also helps these people hang on. There is a real tolerance for behaviour from these people that would usually get a person in trouble; the only gun I've ever seen in Japan was a rifle that a homeless man was cleaning while sitting in the busiest restaurant area of Shinjuku... that was in 1990.
The homeless people I've seen also seem to live by a set of unstated rules that allow them to co-exist with commercial businesses and shoppers. Each night small cardboard shelters and sleeping bags appear as homeless people bed down in the closed store fronts... and each morning all evidence of them is gone before the stores are opened and begin their daily regimin of cleaning the sidewalks and store fronts.
The fact that there are public programs that help to distribute food and provide shelter for the homeless in Japan is, by the way, the most tangible effect that Christianity has had on Japanese culture. In the brief time between the re-opening of the country to foreign influences -- thanks to the incoming Meiji government in 1868 -- and the time when this new government took over matters of public education and welfare, Christian missionaries pioneered general education for the public and established many institutions to help people formerly neglected -- people who were homeless, handicapped, and retarded, as well as prostitues. As I said, these programs were eventually taken over by the Japanese government and continue to the present day, although Christianity itself in Japan has since decreased in general influence.

Back to The Three Mountains: August 9, 1998

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All illustrations in these pages are copyright (c) Garth Haslam, and shouldn't be used without his permission. Contact him at: comix@sonic.net