Tent villagers live in a precarious situation 2009/1/6 by Asahi Newspaper

The poignant strains of “Furusato” (Hometown) filled the wintry air, sung by a woman accompanied by an accordionist for the people at Toshikoshi Haken Mura (dispatch workers’ New Year village), the temporary shelter set up in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park to provide shelter and meals for jobless and homeless people over the year-end and New Year’s holidays.

“After I reach my goal/ I will return home someday,” the woman sang. Yet, before me stretched a long line, filled with people who have no homes to go to. They were all seeking food, shelter and warm clothing.

This landmark park in the heart of Tokyo was the perfect place to highlight the reality of the nation’s desperate poverty today. The major media organizations are all concentrated nearby. The park is surrounded by institutions that stand for everything but poverty–bank headquarters, luxury hotels, the outer gardens of the Imperial Palace and government ministries and agencies.

The tent village could not have posed a greater contrast. The nearest government office is the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare–the entity responsible for the nation’s health and employment issues.

Perhaps because they were determined not to let anyone freeze to death practically on their doorstep, officials opened the doors to an auditorium at the ministry to the “villagers.”

It was a stroke of genius by the organizers to erect their tents there, shoving the problem of poverty right in the government’s face.

But after Monday, this village will be dismantled and the auditorium doors shut. The hundreds of homeless people were asked to move to other temporary shelters. It is the government’s responsibility to protect citizens in emergencies, but these people’s constitutionally guaranteed “right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living” is precarious at best.

In his New Year’s news conference, Prime Minister Taro Aso quoted a philosopher’s words: “Pessimism comes from our passions; optimism from the will.” He said this is one of his favorite quotes. Yet, the distress felt by people who have been fired can hardly be called a product of their passions. Aso, who is supposed to steer the nation through these critical times, seems to have a limited ability to read the prevailing public mood.

The same could be said of the crucial requirement that a leader must be able to persuade the nation to use its maximum powers of recovery.

If I may be so impertinent, I will also critique Aso’s kakizome New Year’s calligraphy which comprised the kanji characters for anshin (peace of mind) and katsuryoku (vitality). The final brush stroke was weak and blurry. He should have used more ink and stronger wrist control.

The year’s political confrontations are about to begin, focusing on surviving this dismal economy. At the tent village, leaders of opposition parties vowed to end the current “political disaster.”

During Aso’s televised news conference, a tsunami warning flashed on the screen, prompting thoughts of what lies ahead in this turbulent new year.

–The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 5(IHT/Asahi: January 6,2009)




















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