by filmaker Greg Lam
After the bubble economy collapsed in Japan in the early 1990's, Japan was faced with a problem it hadn't seen since the reconstruction years after World War II: homelessness. In the 2000's homelessness would peak and then slowly decline to the point, where in 2018, the government officially counted only 5,534 homeless people living on the streets. This documentary examines who the homeless are, how they differ from the homeless in North America, what organizations and the government are doing to support them, and whether Japan could serve as a model for other countries to follow.
Personal Journey Version
Walking through Shinjuku, a large business and government area in Tokyo, Japan, Greg found himself in a relatively unused corner of a park. There he saw something he wouldn't be able to get out of his mind, a temporary shelter made out of a blue tarp, with solar panels on top and a bike out front. The person living there must be homeless, but it was so organized, nothing like what he saw while working as a videographer on the edge of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, where he made a short documentary about the renovation of an old hotel into a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residence.
Thus began Greg's journey to understand why Japan's homeless were so different than what he saw in North America. In researching his documentary, “Homeless in Japan”, he discovers that you'll rarely see homeless women or children, which is largely attributable to the government's livelihood protection assistance (social assistance in Japan). Despite the assistance, if you look in the right areas, you can find a small number of older men, often found in less trafficked places under bridges or along riverbanks. Who are these men, why are they living the way they do, what are people and organizations doing to help, and is homelessness in Japan a solvable problem?