The Top End Variety

Not a developing countries' prerogative


Banks of Sumida river Tokyo.

A high-end economy like Japan may not be the first place to look for Economic Weaker Section (EWS) dwellings. Nevertheless, some homeless people can be found in makeshift shelters. There are several stories on the backgrounds of these homeless. A popular one among westerners says these people have become jobless and cannot bear the disgrace under the eyes of their family. Although many people serve in lifelong employment in one company, even when they do not perform satisfactory by any standard, Japan does have a labour market.
Another story deals with finance, of course. There are people in desperate deep debts, think only of the addicts who are one of the family in the Pachinko parlours. Loan agents do not hesitate to hire gangsters to collect debts. Alex Kerr explains.


"Yakuza (organised crime) threatens your family, comes banging on your door at night or calls you in the office twenty five times per day. As a result ten thousands of people disappear every year in a process known as Yonige, ”Midnight Run”. They leave their homes, change identity and move to another city, all to hide from the enforcers of Japan’s consumer loans.
Traditionally people must clear all debts by the end of the year, so New Year’s Eve is the premier time for Yonige. The 80.000 who fled in het night of 1996 had nearly doubled by 1999, to 130.000.
So popular is the Midnight Run that it has spawned a new business, Benriyasan (Mr. Convenient), facilitators who help families flee their
homes and who take care of their possessions while they are on the run. In 1999, Japanese television featured a new drama, “The Midnight Run Shop”, whose hero devises schemes for people to evade gangster lean enforcers. It’s a Mission Impossible for debtors,... "
Alex Kerr, Dogs and Demons, The Fall of Modern Japan, Penguin, 2001, page 270.


Banks of the Ara river in Tokyo.




Moreover, it is clear we are not dealing with muddled people here. The improvised dwellings are neat. They sit on a wooden platform and everything is tidied up. The gray shelter even has an overhead door on a rack. Although this scene is utterly Japanese, there is one feature that definitely refers to the global architecture of dwellings of the displaced: the blue sheet.

In real estate, there are three factors of importance to the value of property: location, location, and location. Therefore most remarkable is the location of the shelters of the homeless in Tokyo.


Photo collage of the Amsterdam Eastern Harbours(left) and Tokyo Sumida River.
In Amsterdam, living on the water is considered highly luxurious whereas in Tokyo the riverbanks are left over for the homeless.


While in many countries living on the water is considered very attractive, the Japanese consider their rivers and the sea as primarily hazardous. Rivers in Tokyo are screened off from the city with high concrete walls. The banks provide excellent space for those who look for a place to put their shelters. Others hide their tent in the bushes and shrubs in public parks.

In debates about homeless people, new groups of displaced people have appeared. Executives on business trip spend fewer nights at home than out. In addition, even ordinary commuters fall victim to this trend. As commuting becomes too time consuming, more and more people sleep in hotels instead of there home bedroom.

From the top, things may look upside down.

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