The Osaka High Court on Tuesday overturned a lower court ruling that a park can be registered as an address of a homeless man.
Yuji Yamauchi, 56, has lived in a pegged tent in Ogimachi Park in Osaka City’s Kita Ward since around 1998 and received his mail there.
The ward office refused to register the park as his address in March 2004, prompting him to file the lawsuit with the Osaka District Court to demand the local government rescind the decision.
This is interesting on a number of levels.
In many parts of the US, you can register to vote without a proper street address. Usually, you do this by drawing a map showing the location of your home; this is not available on some state voter registration forms, but the federal Motor Voter Act form (which works in all states) has a space on it for map-drawing. This was intended to be used by people in really rural areas that lack house numbering, but it can also be used by homeless people. Indeed, homeless advocacy groups even help the homeless register to vote, using their shelter, park or refrigerator carton as their address.
The Osaka High Court proposes a remarkably different test for what can constitute a “residence.” The Japanese Asahi‘s treatment sheds some more light on it:
In Osaka City, which as of 2003 contained the largest homeless population in Japan (about 6,600), it has been revealed that many day-laborers had registered addresses in office buildings in Nishinari Ward. Work is also ongoing to forcibly evict the tents pitched in Nagai Park in Higashi-Sumiyoshi Ward. The High Court ruling seems likely to affect the city’s homeless policy.
…Like the decision below, handed down last January, this decision indicated that a “residence,” as provided in the Residential Basic Registration Act, “designates the center of [one’s] life, with the deepest relationship to [one’s] life.”
That said, to be recognized as a residence, a place will not suffice if it is merely where daily life takes place: rather, the court decided that “it is necessary for its form to meet the standards of a residence, as provided by sound conventional wisdom.”
The court then determined that Yamauchi’s tent “is simply constructed from square timbers and plastic sheeting, and can be easily removed or moved to a different place; it is not connected to the land.”
Some background on the Japanese law at play here:
All three are remarkably byzantine in a number of ways. They don’t work together very well, for one thing. A person’s koseki can be in Okinawa (or Dokdo) while they’re living in Hokkaido. More importantly (for us), resident aliens are practically invisible in the other two systems, which leads to all sorts of problems for international families living in Japan (Japanese people married to aliens appear to be single, and their children appear to be bastards). The existence of registration is also Japan’s excuse for not subscribing to child abduction treaties (a fact you should be aware of if starting a family with a Japanese spouse).
As much as I dislike these systems, they are vital in the government’s current way of doing things. They are used to track inheritance, tax liability and property rights, among other things. The systems also allow the government to conduct a proper census every year without hiring additional census takers.
I’ve dealt with one court case involving a homeless man in Tokyo, and he kept the registered address of his family outside the city (despite the fact that his family had disowned him). Is that much better? What alternative does a homeless person in Japan have? It’s a pretty big hole in the social welfare net, and I hope the Supreme Court finds a good way to patch it when this case goes up for its final appeal.