Homeless Japan: The Birth of Shelter Culture

Homeless Japan: The Birth of Shelter Culture

Tom Gill - Professor of Social Anthropology, Faculty of International Studies, Meiji Gakuin University, Japan

Friday, November 2, 2007 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Room 202, Henry R. Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 6511

Japan has a constitution guaranteeing a civilized standard of living to all and was once admired for combining high economic growth with equitable distribution of wealth. Nowadays, however, fubyōdōka (widening inequality) and wākingu pua (working poor) are media buzzwords, and poverty issues are being treated with new urgency. Homeless people are the most dramatic and noticeable symptom of poverty and inequality. From the late 1990s, blue tents and shacks in parks and on riverbanks, and cardboard boxes around stations and public buildings, have become an inescapable feature of city life. More recently ‘net-cafe refugees’ (people who spend their nights in internet cafes, all-night video stores etc.) have also caught the eye of the public.

Until 2000, there was only one publicly-run homeless shelter in Japan. Today there are over thirty public establishments, and many more run by non-profit organizations. Japanese homeless shelters are of interest to the anthropologist because they represent a new social institution, in which the rules, objectives, and daily way of life have to be devised from scratch. In my presentation I will discuss the emerging culture of homelessness and homeless shelters as recently observed in Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka.

Tom Gill is a professor in the Faculty of International Studies at Meiji Gakuin University (Yokohama campus). He is currently on leave, based at University of California at Santa Barbara and using an Abe fellowship to work on a comparative study of homelessness in Japan, the United States and Britain. He is the author of Men of Uncertainty: The Social Organization of Day Laborers in Contemporary Japan (SUNY Press, 2001) and many papers on casual labor and homelessness in Japan.