Kojiki or “homuresu no hito,” homeless man on Ginza, Tokyo


Japan is replete with the homeless, who live under bridges in neat cardboard boxes, in parks in blue tarp tents, and on the heat gratings of its major cities, even on the Ginza, like this man. Although there is a hiragana word for them, kojiki (“beggar”), many people feel that homelessness is very different than begging, since these men rarely beg, and they use the term hômuresu no hito, which is the Japanified transliteration of ‘homeless person’.

When I used to go for my daily run along the Mukogawa River in Nishinomiya I would see hômuresu no hito living under the train bridges in neat huts they had built from packing containers. Every morning they beat out their futons, swept out their boxes, and cleaned their hibachis. Most had radios and a few had televisions powered by batteries. It was rumored that one of them was a dropout philosophy professor from Kansai GaiDai, but there is always a rumor like that.

In 2000 I took this photo in front of the Fendi store on Ginza, Tokyo’s traditional old money shopping street. It’s not worthy of Robert Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson’s street photography, but the shot was only there for an instant, then Christmas shoppers cut off the scene and he was gone.

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