Although there are homeless people in every country, it seems more jarring to see a ragged-looking individual sitting on the sidewalk in super fast-paced, futuristic Tokyo — a metropolis that reeks of material wealth.
But it’s precisely this fact that makes it hard for those who can’t get back on their feet so easily after being retrenched. If you lose your salary, you can’t pay the rent, you get evicted, and if you don’t have a residential address, you can’t find a job.
In a city that seems cold and relentless, there are those who do want to lend a hand: the Big Issue, a non-profit magazine that helps the homeless help themselves. It’s heartening to know this, in the face of recent news that a Catholic organization was ordered by the government to stop giving free meals to the homeless along the Sumida River.
Written by journalists, the Big Issue (300JPY) is sold to the homeless for 140JPY, but they pocket the 160JPY as profit. Those who are absolutely destitute can be given the first 10 copies for free to have a small kick-start.
The idea was plucked from the UK, where the original Big Issue was founded by John Bird and the Roddicks of The Body Shop in 1991. Japan started its own arm in 2003 and has even branched out in publishing a book by the homeless.
Called Sekai ichi atatakai jinsei sodan: shiawase no jinsei reshipi (The World’s Most Heartwarming Advice Column: Recipe for a Happy Life), the book has 46 sets of questions and responses tackling life’s stumbling blocks. The commonsensical pearls of wisdom drives home that the homeless do know a thing or two about life through their hard-knock experiences.
So the next time you see a homeless person peddling the Big Issue, don’t be afraid to dish out 300JPY and read as much nihongo as you can.