The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

New Year`s Resolutions


dcjj098341We all make them but as my good friend, Paul Deegan says here, “why wait to New Year to make a change for the better?”

Good point well made and certainly one that Makoto Yuasa makes with his Moyai organisation. A Tokyo University Law graduate he is only 39 years old but is almost single handedly changing the way ordinary Japanese view the failing economy and fracturing society of their own country. Rather than thinking  “I`m alright”  he decided to do something about helping those, that often through no fault of their own, find themselves dropping further and further down the social ladder where, there at the bottom, they can become almost invisible. At first his efforts were small and personal like providing a guarantor for renting an apartment or providing legal advice to those that could not afford a lawyer. But word spread and the generosity of his own example, plus his erudite refutes of the official line that “Japan has no poverty problem” inspired others to question and act. This year  many hundreds of ordinary people will volunteer to serve warm food,  give advice, lend an ear or even provide a haircut to about three hundred of Tokyo`s homeless and un-employed in Hibiya Park.  The whole event is in-sight of the Health and Welfare ministry (one in the eye for them) and runs to the 5th of January. Please go along and help.

That`s what I did yesterday hence the late New Year`s wishes but what a way to spend New Year! After I had off-loaded my food donation, and being a terrible cook, I ended up just walking around taking in the energy of the place. Boxes of rice,  rice cakes and other foods filled one large tent in the centre of the camp; an army of sandwich makers buttered bread on a large tarpulin next to it, huge caldrons boiled with noodles and soup. Men (and a few women) lined up to get free advice about housing, employment and medical care opportunities in another tent at the entrance to the camp; while yet another tent nearby was carpeted with sleeping men, the heater inside warming them as the TV made those still awake smile and forget the cold and loneliness of sleeping rough for a while.

Some Japanese still believe that there are no homeless people in Japan, that everyone is wealthy enough to live quite well and those that drop down and out of the “usual” pattern are somehow wrong headed or just plain lazy. But they are not, I talked to many, they were just ordinary people: as dignified as those in suits and ties (they did not want their faces photographed), as cultured (we talked mostly of politics and religion) as hopeful, if not more so, of a future with jobs and opportunities and almost without exception, proud of Japan despite the way it has treated them. It was easy talking to them to see the salaryman behind the unkept hair, the school teacher beneath the patched coat with incongruously polished shoes. Yet the life of the streets had toughened them; Japanese winters are cold; the parks are bare and ungenerous; charity does not usually begin at home in Tokyo. Yet for a few days, at least, Hibiya Park has become an oasis of care and altruism and you could see the thankfulness in the faces I tried not to photograph.



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