Poverty in Tokyo
Despite having the third-largest economy in the world, there is a growing issue with poverty in Japan. Of the total population, 15.7 percent of Japanese people live in poverty, a percentage greater than countries with less economic resources.

The country’s overall child poverty rate has also hit a record high of 16.3 percent, prompting questions as to whether the country is trying to fix these issues.

When people think of Tokyo, “poor” is a thought that seldom ever comes to mind. Walking in the streets of the capital, you do not see people begging for money; the homeless are all hiding amongst the shadows.

Yet when the story of the emaciated and hypothermia-struck bodies of an elderly man, his wife and 39-year-old son were found in their home after weeks of no one noticing, one cannot help but question the state of the one in six Japanese citizens living under the poverty line.

Living in a Single-Parent Household

In 2012, The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported that “significant poverty among single parents is a factor boosting the child poverty rate to 14 percent.” According to a Library of Congress article, there has been an increase in the number of welfare recipients, especially from single-parent households. In addition, the article states, “It is hard for single mothers to find jobs that pay enough to support a household in Japan.”

Child poverty in working, single-parent households stood at 50 percent, according to a 2014 TokyoWeekender article. The Abe administration is working on poverty alleviation methods, but not enough attention is paid to child poverty.

Due to the stagnant economy, the number of “freeters” is on a rise. “Freeters” refer to young people, who, after deciding to avoid Japanese corporate culture, live a freer lifestyle. But jumping from job to job in modern Japan is too difficult to properly survive on.

More than 1.23 million single mother households exist that earn only 40 percent of the average household income. One out of three unmarried women are considered poor, and many of these women fall into poverty due to divorce, single parenting, debts, domestic violence and family background.

The Elephant in the Room

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011, there have been many job losses for middle-aged workers.

At the national level, Japan has gone through three prime ministers since the Fukushima disaster, who ranged from anti-nuclear to cautiously pro-nuclear. Calls for removing nuclear plants completely swarmed the country due to the fact that 20 percent of the world’s earthquakes occur in Japan; danger of a repeat is high.

Only one or two of the 54 nuclear reactors in Japan are now active; the rest are substituted by imported coal and gas, which have caused other detrimental effects on the economy.

When it comes to the question of poverty in Tokyo, many people prefer to hide the truth. On a neighborhood level, people hide that they need two jobs to afford tuition. On the political level, the government hides the true poverty statistics from its international community.

According to an article describing the effects of the Fukushima disaster, the “government was afraid to face reality and did not set the poverty line at an appropriate value.” All of this was done in the effort to endure the misfortune in private.

Poverty is a topic that is emerging from the shadows, and the Japanese government is beginning to acknowledge and address its presence.

– Ashley Riley

Sources: Behind the Grids, Japan Sociology, Tokyo Weekender, Library of Congress, The Economist
Photo: Travel CNN