Let’s take another look at Google Maps Japan, this time focusing our gaze on Osaka’s Nishinari Park. On the map, it just looks like your average urban park in Osaka:
But look at the satellite photo (click for full size):
What could those be? Why, they’re little shanty houses!
Since the early 1990s, parts of Osaka have become something of a haven for Japan’s homeless people. Colonies of blue-tarped tents and cardboard houses, such as the one in Nishinari Park (located in the Airin area, host to one of Japan’s largest homeless populations) seen above have developed into full-blown communities, complete with electriciy, TV, and corrals of dogs. Residents make ends meet through day labor and collecting recyclables. If you’ve ever visited Osaka Castle, you will likely know what I am talking about.
The colonies have even gained some international attention in recent years (see this excellent BBC pictorial, for example). I suppose they are interesting because while shantytowns are a common sight throughout Asia and the rest of the developing world, they might not be expected from the world’s 2nd largest economy. Plus, it’s pretty neat to see that they’ve made such comfortable lives for themselves considering the circumstances.
One of those homeless colonies, a ten-person, 15-tent compound located in Nagai Park, is in trouble as authorities plan to evict squatters in to begin construction in preparation to hose the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Athletics.
It’s sad to see these generally peaceful groups of resourceful men broken up. The homeless culture is one of the unique aspects of Osaka that gives the city some flavor, and it’s too bad that city officials can’t recognize it as such. Instead, they have brought an expensive sporting event to the city that is likely to plunge it even deeper in debt.
Nevertheless, the order has been issued, and if the homeless do not leave by Jan. 21 they will be forced to remove their tents.
To get a better idea of what’s happening on the ground, MFT plans to send crack Osaka correspondent Roy to attend a festival to be held this weekend by the residents and their non-profit backers. The event will feature stage performances with the homeless residents and young people. Stay tuned for awesome photos!