Japanese activists protest against Tokyo

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Japanese activists protest against Tokyo
11 May 2005
 

A petition has been circulated by homeless and non-homeless activists throughout Japan - to protest Tokyo`s recent move to "cleanse" parks of homeless persons who stay there.

The ability of homeless persons to collectivize and create safe communities in public parks up till now has been an immeasurable resource for both their own physical and mental health as well as their capacity to reach out to others (and organize!). Should the ordinance (see below) pass, the city of Tokyo will be setting dangerous precedents. First, if we allow the existence of tents (and their residents) to be debated as a problem solve-able by banning "offensive" people/matter from park environments, public discourse will increasingly be diverted to valuing the health of "parks" and "public properties" over that of fellow citizens. Secondly, superficial benefits to "having nice public spaces" will lead to a chain reaction of prohibition ordinances across Japan, thus seriously threatening the lives of thousands of men and women who may ultimately be forced to live fluidly on the streets.

Here is the text of the petition. [For more information, contact Rayna at raru@jweb.co.jp]

HELP US FIGHT city ordinances shutting the homeless out of public parks!

Staying in parks MUST NOT be made illegal!

Our organization, Koen-no-Kai (The Park Collective), is made up of individuals, both homeless and non-homeless, and organizations - all working to support homeless persons in Tokyo. On October 8, 2004, Tokyo governor Ishihara made it clear at a press conference that he is thinking of revising city ordinances to prevent homeless persons from staying in city parks. Newspapers informed the public that, "As soon as preparations for transitioning [the homeless] have been set…we will make the prevention of settling [in parks] a solid policy… if this takes effect, it will be the first such move anywhere in the nation," and "Measures against violators will be strict."

However, this ordinance contains a great number of problematic points. In his public address, the Tokyo governor has shown no consideration for actual conditions that the homeless face. First of all, Governor Ishihara fails to understand the difficulties homeless people struggle with to survive. This can be seen in his past statements (some equating the homeless with "free spirits") such as "after three days living in the open, people just get hooked – they can`t stop". Today in Japan, there are over 25,000 persons living on the streets. Once one becomes homeless, the lack of an address makes it nearly impossible to find work. Without work, one cannot find a place to live. Furthermore, social welfare administrations in Japan are not providing Japanese citizens even the minimal level of subsistence as guaranteed in the Constitution. Evictions, as well as the removal and destruction of personal belongings are now being carried out by government administrations across the country. These actions deprive the homeless of their place to sleep - fundamental to their right to exist and survive, and also deprives them of their personal possessions - fundamental to their personal and social lives. For example, on October 29, 2004 the east Tokyo park authority office sent 100 employees, guards, and police at 4am to violently remove nine tents, newly built in Yoyogi Park, and their owners. Five of the nine individuals are currently taking action in court for redress on human rights grounds.

By prohibiting persons from inhabiting parks, the Governor may make parks appear "cleaner", but the problem of how our current society sends people to the streets will become less visible. Governor Ishihara has stated that the homeless are "an outcome of the declining economy," but the fact is that people do not become homeless simply due to an economic recession. In Japan shifts in industrial structures (for example, avai

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