Poverty and Homelessness in Japan, in Pictures

Many people know Japan as one of the most modern and developed countries in the world, a nation where gleaming skyscrapers stand tall and proud over the urban skyline and people make use of technology in very innovative, very creative ways, all while walking over very clean, very spotless streets.

Japan also has the third largest economy in the world.

But the fact is, Japan, like any other country has slum areas, poverty, and homeless people.
These are things travelers might not necessarily see during their trips to Japan.

What Do Slum Areas in Japan Look Like?

Slum areas are often characterized by the blue waterproof tarpaulin that drapes makeshift homes.

Blue tarpaulin, for providing waterproof protection against the rain and elements.
Blue tarpaulin, for providing waterproof protection against the rain and elements.
Eating a meal.
Eating a meal.

Despite the unkempt and dirty appearance of these slum areas, they are generally safe, and crime is very minimal.

Deserted and derelict.
Deserted and derelict.
Making a bed out of cardboard boxes.
Making a bed out of cardboard boxes.

Most people who live in such slum areas do so because the company they worked for went bankrupt, or there was restructuring, which meant they were let go, or they have some other physical (or mental) condition that makes them undesirable to employers.

But still, many do try to get by, doing whatever they can to scrounge up money for themselves.

Selling odds and ends to get by.
Selling odds and ends to get by.
Collecting cans as a source of income.
Collecting cans as a source of income.

In many ways, it is like living in a small village or town and having a sense of community is still considered important.

Community is still important.
Community is still important.
No man, or woman, is an island.
No man, or woman, is an island.

Travelers to Japan will almost always NOT get to see slum areas because these areas are located on the outskirts of most cities, like way in the suburbs – where, naturally, many travelers do not go.

Cultural Note: Because of cultural reasons, poor people in Japan do not beg AND people do not give to beggars. It is just not the thing to do. They will resort to searching in garbage bins and trying to get food and shelter and other necessities from charities, but no one will resort to begging.


How Bad is Poverty and Homelessness in Japan?


According to the Japanese Government’s figures in 2017, about 5,800 people or so are still considered homeless.

Japan has a population of about 127 million.
Which means the percentage of homeless people is about 0.0045%
Which is 45 out of every 1,000,000 people.

By right, every Japanese who is unable to physically work should be entitled to 生活保護 (Seikatsu Hogo) or Livelihood Protection, which entitles them to about 130,000 Yen a month (about $ 1300 a month). This amount is not enough to lead to a life of luxury, given Japan’s high cost of living, but it should at least help with putting a roof over one's head and getting three square meals a day.

But, some homeless people do not know about Livelihood Protection.
Some apply but get rejected.
And some just refuse to apply for it.

98% of the homeless population in Japan are men.

Why is this so?

Japanese society is still quite patriarchal. Men are expected to be independent and be able to eke out a living with their own two hands, while women are not expected to be independent. A homeless woman shocks many municipality officers, and the shock is bigger if she has kids with her. Generally, people are far more sympathetic to homeless women, especially those with children.

Most homeless women or single mothers who are struggling will be given enough assistance to get by, and with accommodation, that comes in the form of 団地 (Danchi) or Government Housing, many of which are earmarked for single mothers.

Government Housing in Japan look like this:

Example of Japanese Government Housing.
Example of Japanese Government Housing.
Another example of Japanese Government Housing.
Another example of Japanese Government Housing.

For those unable to qualify for Livelihood Protection – or who refuse to apply for it – they may decide to sleep out in the open.

For example, if you are in Ueno in Tokyo, at the bridge between the park and the station, you’ll see some homeless people. Or if you go to Shinjuku Chuo Park.

The Homeless at Ueno Park.
The Homeless at Ueno Park.
The Homeless at Shinjuku Chuo Park.
The Homeless at Shinjuku Chuo Park.

If you can find some low-paying job and manage to scrounge up a bit of moolah for rent, you may be able to afford a tiny and cramped 110-square feet apartment.

Tiny and Cramped but still livable.
Tiny and Cramped but still livable.

ドヤ街 (Doya-gai) or flophouses are often a last-resort refuge if you want to rent a cheap room but, for whatever reason, don’t want to pay a deposit, “key money”, or provide evidence of identity or of a guarantor. These things can be challenging for down-and-out-of-their-luck men to produce. Therefore, doya-gai may be an option.

Here you can get a room for 750 yen a night (~ $ 7)
Here you can get a room for 750 yen a night (~ $ 7)
The hallway inside a doya-gai. Creepy?
The hallway inside a doya-gai. Creepy?
A room inside a doya-gai. Just enough space for you to stretch out on the ground.
A room inside a doya-gai. Just enough space for you to stretch out on the ground.
Coin-operated hot shower. 200 yen ( ~ $1.90) for 7 minutes.
Coin-operated hot shower. 200 yen ( ~ $1.90) for 7 minutes.

Alternatively, you can go to a 24-hour インターネットカフェ or Internet café and spend the night in one of the cubicles.

At about 2000 yen (~ $20) per night (prices vary), you get a small cubicle, a couple of soft drinks, the use of a washing machine, and often, a shared washroom.
And of course, access to the Internet.

It’s not the Ritz-Carlton, but it’s certainly doable.

Enough space to sleep, down a six-pack, and play some PUBG.
Enough space to sleep, down a six-pack, and play some PUBG.
Some families also live at Internet cafes, with each individual family member renting a room.
Some families also live at Internet cafes, with each individual family member renting a room.
Shared Bathroom.
Shared Bathroom.

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Conclusion:


Japan, like any other country, also has slum areas and homeless people and poverty.
You might not have seen it while you were in Japan, but it is there.
I hope this has been an educational article for you.

Thank you for making it this far!

Poverty and Homelessness in Japan, in Pictures
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  • JimRSmith

    Oddly enough, I had been meaning to ask you about this subject.

    When we were in Japan last year, we got curious, and had a look on the internet. There isn't a lot in English about it, but I do remember articles I found, saying that this was something more easily found in Osaka, than in other cities in Japan. As you say, however, it isn't something the vast majority of visitors to the country would stumble across.

    We also saw no beggars, but we did see older men, dressed in traditional costumes, going round with a bell, which they would ring when given a donation. I never found out exactly what that was?

    • You probably read an article that mentioned Kamagasaki, in Osaka. It's like an area located in the suburbs of Osaka. If you go to Osaka for your travels and for sightseeing, I'm very certain you wouldn't be seeing it!

      I would consider Kamagasaki the largest slum concentration in Japan. (although, I'm no scholar, so I could be wrong).

      There are two other areas that are "famous" for being slums: San'ya (Tokyo) and Kotobuki (Yokohama). Again, I'm pretty sure you'll never enter those areas during your trip.

      As for those older men in traditional costumes - those are scam artists. You donate, they ask for more. They might even give you some cheap, flimsy thing, and then ask for a donation, for "temple maintenance". Some even claim that the donations are for the "tsunami victims", which is completely ridiculous as that was in 2011. What balderdash.

      To properly donate, one should just do so at the temple grounds itself, or buy the many souvenirs that are sold at the temple grounds.

    • *sold on the temple grounds.

    • JimRSmith

      Yeah, my gal got very into the goshuin books, and some of the amulets on sale.

      It was indeed Kamagasaki.

    • Show All
  • Inneedofusername

    I have never been to Japan, and probably never will cause polish people just can't afford that, but I find this take very interesting.
    Especially the "98% of the homeless are men" part. It suprised me, and at first I thought that it is connected to women being able to become prostitutes or find a sugar daddy. I've heard about that problem with lack of women and men being the majority of population. But I'm not sure whether this is a problem just for china or other Asian countries as well

    • "At first I thought that it is connected to women being able to become prostitutes or find a sugar daddy." - This presupposes that there are large droves of women who are able to be prostitutes or seek out richer men to provide for their needs. Unfortunately, the majority of women (and men) are average-looking and cannot go down this route.

      Young, good-looking women are often able to find work as "hostesses", and that goes for young, good-looking men, who can work as a "hosts". Both jobs involve providing physical (and emotional) intimacy to members of the opposite sex, although offering penetrative sex is illegal in Japan and is thus not allowed.

      But such women and men are not the women and men who apply for Livelihood Protection. One applies for Livelihood Protection when one absolutely cannot find a job. As mentioned above, due to cultural-socio mores, women are almost always approved to receive welfare from the government, while men are less likely to be approved, especially if they are considered physically fit.

      This accounts for the disparity of the homeless population in Japan.

  • Wow, I never even thought about homelessness in Japan. It seems like the homeless there find many ways to put a roof over there head.
    Here in NYC, there are beggars everywhere. My sister has an apartment near a historic location, and there is beggars constantly harassing tourists and college students

    Even the homeless in Japan have more honor 😂.

    • There are still the occasional scam artists.
      Japan does have crime - just perhaps not as much as other parts of the world.

  • btbc92

    Thanks for the indepth info. Will definitely need this when I get there. I have heard about this similarly. But NEVER to this degree. Good MyTake.

    • If you go to the normal "tourist" spots in Japan, I highly doubt you will see any of this.
      Still, it's always good to know more than necessary.
      And also - Japan is very safe for a solo female traveler. No worries!

    • btbc92

      Well I plan to move there so I would see them no doubt. I am not afraid to see it, I just feel sorry for them and pray I can contribute to making Japan a better place equally. Thanks for letting me know.

  • nerms123

    Interesting article. I also thought Japan had a very clean environment but my Japanese friend told me her town actually had pretty bad pollution. It’s also interesting that people don’t beg there.

    • Cities in Japan are generally very, very clean, but things may be a little different in certain towns and villages. So far, in all the cities and towns and villages I've been, definitely very, very clean.

  • saeyamazaki

    This is a good article, something people really don't know about Japan haha.

    • You are right. It's not exactly something tourism wants to promote.
      But, obviously, speaking objectively, compared to many other countries, Japan's homelessness rate is well at the bottom of the list.

  • Vallius86

    I don't have anything to contribute but this was a very interesting read and I enjoyed it greatly.

    • You're more than welcome!

    • Vallius86

      Yes thank you

    • Vallius86

      Also I like your doctor who back ground

    • Show All
  • needhelp777

    Actually all I know about Japan is that they do incest

    • It's okay. You probably also don't know where New Zealand or Russia is on a map.
      I have very low expectations.

    • 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

  • Spiritwander

    Sooooo... what you're saying is...
    ... pretty much like every place else, but with chopsticks.
    😅

  • grizzlybearbite

    A lot of us Americans (north) cry over the homelessness and hunger in other countries. Which, as someone who once experienced being homeless, I can appreciate. However... That's reminiscent of a man who's own family at home ks starving, and he's bringing money/food to another family. We have our own homeless/hunger/poverty problem here. Everyone crying over the children in India, but walking past all the children here. If you can't feed you're own family, don't go feeding another family. This is the problem with our American mentality. Sickening

  • Hmm.. am deep surprise

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