Another Type of Japanese Minority

Do you know the town called “Kamagasaki” in Osaka?  It’s so-called Japanese slum where many homeless people, day laborers have lived long time ago. I suppose that there are some who haven’t ever heard about this town because the name of this place was changed to “Airin-chiku (愛隣地区)” as a political term by Osaka government. However, most of the residents and those who know this place well call it Kamagasaki.

In this town, there are not only residents but also plenty of supporting organizations and most of them are organized by those who don’t live in Kamagasaki. Why are there so many supporting organizations? Why don’t they band as one big organization to support Kamagasaki residents? The reason is that each organization has each idea of their activities. Some of them appeal the right to work and live stably, while others insist on the right to live on the streets. For us, who have our own houses, it’s too hard and cruel to be forced to live on the streets. If I ran into such situation, I would surely aim to rehabilitation. Therefore, we tend to expect that Kamagasaki people also hope to work and work stably. However, not all Kamagasaki people hope so.

Before I explain the reason, I need tell you another story.

They have their favorite song named “Kamagasaki Ninjo (釜ヶ崎人情―kamagasaki  heart)”. In its lyrics, it have a phrase―”Koko ha tengoku kamagasaki (means, here is heaven, Kamagasaki)”. Why is Kamagasaki heaven although people can’t work and live without any problems and are forced to live on the streets? I sometimes go there to work as a volunteer, and I cannot possibly think that I want to live there. Kamagasaki, which is like a hell, is a heaven to the residents. This difference of thoughts between them and us makes Japanese labor problem complicated, tells us the difficulty in resolving, and creates supporting organizations with various ideas.

Now, bring the topic around the reason why they think Kamagasaki is heaven. Japanese society use many laborers to build infrastructures in the term of rapid economic growth and after finishing it, our society excluded them as disposable labor force and have ignored them. Such people lie in Kamagasaki. Therefore, the hell is Japanese society rather than Kamgasaki for those people. There, they can get a few job such as day labor and somehow manage to squeeze. They can also walk around the town not as a poor person but a resident. This is the reason why Kamagasaki people sing “here is heaven, Kamagasaki”, and appeal not rehabilitation but the right to live on the streets.

Profound social problems, especially local ones such as Kamgasaki problem, villages with nuclear power plants, and Okinawan base problems, always have differences of thoughts between outsiders and concerned people. In these local problems, concerned people are usually minority. They are neither immigrants nor minority ethnic groups, but they are also Japanese minority. To understand those minorities’ thoughts and to solve the local problems, the outsiders should know that there are differences of thoughts between them and concerned people.

by Yukari Deguchi

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6 thoughts on “Another Type of Japanese Minority

  1. Firstly, I have never heard about this district and many home-less people live in this area so it’s quite interesting to know that.
    I agree that in order to support the people who have problems in their living, it is very important to understand “what they really need”.
    Even though you think that you are doing right thing by yourselves, it may not be same thing for the others. If you want to help somebody, it is very significant to put your feet into someone’s shoes.

  2. hi, there
    it was quite interesting to read your post, especially you made a point that people should know there must be a value difference between policy makers and minority(in this case, people in kamagasaki)
    I happened to know kamagasaki in high school because many of my friends did the volunteering work there. I also agree with you that government policies or local self governing-bodies do not fully comprehend the needs of people struggling against poverty. As far as I know, homeless people were exploited heavily under the system that aims to utilize labor force at lowest cost. Then again, after they are used up, they need to wander in the streets in search for jobs. In this point, I also feel Kamagasaki is a place like heaven for people living there.

  3. At my international school, all the 5th graders had to go to Kamagasaki for a field trip and had to help out the homeless. Since I was only eleven years old, I didn’t know in detail about what the area was like and just thought it was smelly, dirty, and a bit scary. However, while I was helping out feeding the homeless, I remember that several of them came up and spoke to us in English (all my friends were foreigners so they thought we couldn’t speak Japanese). We were surprised with their fluency in English. They said that they did have good education and they used to work globally but since they were fired or bankrupt they had to live in Kamagasaki. The area provided food, clothing, and I think shelter as well so it was good place for the homeless. To me Kamagasaki was a place where I wanted to leave as soon as possible. However, I guess it is true for the homeless that Kamagasaki is heaven since they can have a descent life as a homeless.

  4. I agree with your opinion that we cannot understand issues about minorities by 2 viewpoints: macro and micro. I previously saw controversy whether inhabitants in stricken areas by nuclear power plants should stay in there or go outside as ridiculous; since it is obvious that staying in the areas is dangerous of radiation exposure. Through your blog, however, I recognized that some people feel the areas heavenly though I previously saw them as hellish. I feel we must consider controversy concerning Japanese society from wider viewpoints.

  5. I was born in Izumi, Osaka and have grown up there, but I did not know much about the town Kamagazaki. So the topic was very interesting.
    I absolutely agree on your idea that we have to understand the difference of thoughts insiders of the issue have. We have to know what they really think, not what we imagine they think.
    My friend from Okinawa says that Okinawa’s economic growth could not achieve today’s level without Okinawa not becoming a part of Japan while they have sacrificed so many things such as their original culture, language, and safe lives without US Army. At the same time, some Okinawan cannot make a living without US bases although they wish them to move to another place, far from their homeland.
    Usually, issues associated to minority groups are so complicated that solving one problem doesn’t solve a whole issue. But knowing the issue and thoughts of local people or those belonging to particular category like hafu is the first step required to solve it (if those in the center of the issue hopes for resolution unlike the case of Kamagasaki).

  6. I live the place which is very close to “Kamagasaki” and “Airin-chiku (愛隣地区)”. Therefore,as you wrote on this blog post, I really think this problem is complex. Once I heard that one of the people in this area has a lot of money but he doesn’t want to live in an apartment. In addition, people who had a higher social status are also there. Moreover, the outsiders don’t really care about this so much but we live in the same place: Japan. Your thoughts that the outsiders need to understand the difference of thinking is very great!

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