Facts About Poverty in TokyoTokyo is not a city that immediately comes to mind as a poverty-stricken city. Japan currently has the third-largest economy in the world, but despite this had a relative poverty rate of 15.6 percent in 2015, significantly higher than other wealthy countries. This poverty is often hidden, and ignored by both the government and citizens of Japan. Much of this poverty is located in the nation’s capital of Tokyo. Below are 10 facts about poverty in Tokyo.

10 Facts About Poverty in Tokyo

  1. Poverty first began to gain recognition as an issue in Tokyo after the 2008 global financial crisis. During this time, a village was set up in Hibiya Park in Tokyo to provide for the city’s newly poor.
  2. The poverty line in Tokyo is set at half the median household disposable income for a given year.
  3. More than 20 percent of the children in Tokyo live in what the government has defined as an impoverished household.
  4. Ten percent of households in Tokyo are not able to adequately feed themselves because of the level of poverty in which they are living.
  5. Parents in 15 percent of households in Tokyo said they could not afford to buy clothes for their children.
  6. The Japanese government has been working to reduce the rate of homelessness in Tokyo, and in 2014 there were only an estimated 1,697 homeless individuals in Tokyo. This was an all-time low for the city.  
  7. The poverty rate of single-parent families in which the parent is working is more than 50 percent in Tokyo, as well as the rest of Japan.
  8. The economic system in Tokyo puts divorced single mothers at an especially high disadvantage, because many Japanese companies only hire recent college graduates. This places divorced single mothers at a disadvantage because if they left the workforce while married to raise children, as is a common cultural practice in Japan, they will likely not be hired when they attempt to rejoin the workforce.
  9. A community of homeless people lives in Shinjuku Central Park, which is located right next to the City Hall in Tokyo.
  10. The three primary groups that receive welfare payment in Tokyo are the elderly, single mothers and the handicapped.

These 10 facts about poverty in Tokyo only touch on poverty in the city. Though Tokyo is often thought of as a fast-paced, glamorous metropolitan city, the reality is that many living in Tokyo are facing crippling levels of poverty.

The above 10 facts about poverty in Tokyo reveal many of the issues being faced by these citizens. Though poverty may be more severe in Tokyo than many would assume, the recognition of this problem at all offers a glimmer of hope that Japan is on its way to improving the lives of its poorest citizens.

– Nicole Stout
Photo: Flickr

poverty in Japan

As the nation with the third largest economy in the world, it is easy to assume that poverty in Japan does not exist. However, one in six Japanese people is living in relative poverty. Many believe this is due to incomes dropping and the number of single-mother households increasing, which often consists of low-paying and sporadic employment. In 2014, child poverty rates in Japan hit a record high. Poverty within the country needs to be addressed, even if it’s less extreme than in other areas.


Children’s Cafeterias

In early 2017, the number of children living in poverty in Japan was estimated to be around 3.5 million. With such numbers rising, a children’s cafeteria named Kawaguchi was created in Tokyo as a place for children to socialize and have what is often times their only proper meal of the day. Kawaguchi survives strictly on cash donations from local businesses, and the food is donated by farmers and some participating families. There are around 50 children who eat there monthly, and about a third of them come from struggling single-parent households.

Like Kawaguchi, hundreds of similar cafeterias have been created throughout Japan to help with poverty issues. Although a law was passed in 2013 in regards to child poverty, sources say programs helping these children lack funding and support.

A proven difficulty in Japan is taking the poverty issue seriously, and the realities of poverty are often hidden for fear of being seen as disadvantaged. With social expectations in Japan, families often make extreme efforts to get their children everything they need to participate in expensive school activities and ensure they look well dressed. In doing this, the families often have to cut down on food.


Finding Children in Need

In addition to cafeterias for children, Japanese nonprofits have created interest-free loans for students who need extra help. An organization called The Nippon Foundation opened a facility where up to 20 children at an elementary age can go between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. to relax, study and have a hot meal. The foundation plans to expand to allow 100 children by 2020.

Because poverty in Japan proves to be somewhat of a taboo, The Nippon Foundation understands that people may not ask for help, even when they desperately need it. So, the foundation focuses a lot of its efforts on outreach and finding children who need this kind of help.

With Japan being such a successful and economically advanced nation, poverty within its boundaries is often overlooked and misunderstood. Because of this, it is essential to understand that aid projects need to be put in place, just like in other struggling countries. Japan is a prime example that poverty can exist in wealthy countries. Assistance programs like children cafeterias and nonprofits not only help alleviate poverty in Japan, but they also spread the message that more needs to be done to help these people, especially children, who are living in poverty.

– McCall Robison

Photo: Flickr

Japan has held the title of the one of world’s largest economies for over 40 years and although seemingly prosperous, an “invisible” problem has emerged. CNN reports “an astonishing one in six [people in Japan], or more than 21 million people in a country of 128 million” are living below the poverty line. The majority of these people are single women, the unemployed, the elderly and children. This staggering change in perspective for one of the more prosperous nations can be realized in the nation’s lack for a proper public assistance and public welfare program.

The current social welfare system that is in place by the Japanese Diet focuses not on the economic and social stress of the poor but instead on dispersing pensions and health care to the “middle class.” This system carries over from the previous economic height of Japan, or “Bubble Period,” from approximately 1960-1990 when lifetime employment was commonplace and the majority of Japanese were “middle class.” This boom in economic sustainability thus became norm and has not realized the changing times where Japan is starting to accumulate debt and seek alternatives within the workplace.

An article from The Tokyo Foundation, which focuses on developing policy for a better Japan, states that, after the prolonged period, the illusion that all Japanese people belong to the middle class was created. They go on to state that this is characterized by the myth that Japanese-style employment is based on mass hiring of new graduates, lifetime employment, seniority-based promotion and copious benefits. Coupled with “traditional” gender roles the Japanese people became entrenched in the belief that this system worked and thus did not need to be changed. However, with the collapse of the economy at the end of the 1990s and a global economy change, “businesses actively sought to replace regular with non-regular employees in an effort to affect a recovery in their performance by reducing personnel costs to generate higher profits, or in other words, a ‘jobless recovery.’”

Nagoya is one of Japan’s major cities with a population of more than 2 million people – statistically speaking that means around 378,000 individuals are living in poverty within the city. The unfortunate result of the current system has lead to a sharp increase in the number of people living outside the protection of the businesses, companies and family welfare that accompanied it. The majority of these people have become a class of working, poverty-stricken people living in squalor.

Although there is a lack of traditional “slum” neighborhoods that you might see in more Westernized countries, these “working-poor” citizens of Nagoya, much like every other major Japanese city, live in areas with cheap hostels that have one room for all functions of living, except for hygiene. One bathing/hygiene area is usually shared with all residents of a hostel, numbering 20 or more.

Those few living in the hostels are the lucky ones however as there are still those who cannot afford even basic shelter and are documented living in tents and shacks. Although this number was documented to be only 758 individuals in 2000, it has only grown with those undocumented as the “working poor.”

Even though the “hidden” poverty problem can be found throughout Japan, in few places does the disparity between the rich and poor show more than in Nagoya. The traditional and persistent attitude of the public is to view the homeless to be idle, antipathetic to living with others, and “dirty and dangerous.” They are often harassed and sometimes killed by citizen groups, particularly youngsters. Such public stigma has also prompted many local authorities to forcibly evict homeless people from public space.

There was a case in 1993 in Nagoya in which a member of the working poor, Mr. K. Hayashi, filed a case against the Nagoya City Hall. Due to the prolonged recession he became homeless, and he could not find a job because of his age and medical issues. So he applied for the public assistance measures for livelihood and housing. However the city approved the medical assistance only. The city’s decision was in line with the ministerial policy that practically denied the entitlement of the homeless to the welfare measures just because they had no residence.

Interpretations on legislation coupled with negative opinion on the situation has led to an institutional irony that prevent people, like Mr. K. Hayashi, from escaping poverty. It unfortunately has become rather a customary practice of local authorities not to extend such measures unless an established residence is proved, and hostels do not count as they are temporary housing.

Although the overall issue of poverty has been addressed – on April 2, 2015, current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revealed plans to set up a fund to help alleviate child poverty – this issue is only recently gaining traction within the Japanese government and has not yet had any significant change.

– Alysha Biemolt

Sources: Travel CNN, Daily Times Tokyo Foundation The State of the Urban Poor in Japan City of Nagoya
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Japan
According to The Economist, poverty in Japan is rarely visible. There is little begging and little evidence that the homeless exist. The poor are quietly hidden in shadows away from what appears of economic homogeneity in Japan. They are hidden from sight and very difficult to measure.

However, the truth of the matter is that poverty is increasing at alarming rates in Japan. After years of economic stagnation, now statistics show that nearly one in six Japanese lived in poverty in 2007. This accounts for nearly 20 million people within the population.


Poverty in Japan


Yet the popular perception of Japan is one of a nation of prosperity and centenarians. Even many Japanese themselves were horrified to find out that Japan’s poverty rate was in recent years as high as 15.7%, nearly as high as the figure for the United States. The Japanese government has admitted that it had been keeping poverty statistics hidden since 1998. Aya Abe, a researcher at the National Institute of Population and Social Security in Tokyo has stated, “it is very unpopular for the Japanese media to say anything about Japanese poverty.” By denying the existence of increasing poverty, Japan has failed to support its growing impoverished population.

The results of this lack of support are visible in the plight of single parents in Japan. The poverty rate of single parents is now the highest of the all of the nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Furthermore, statistics show that now one in seven children in Japan lives in poverty. According to Japan Times, more and more children are now unable to afford schoolbooks and basic materials for education.

Despite these grim facts, few impoverished Japanese are even willing to admit that they are poor. Poverty experts in Japan say that 80% of the poor in Japan are “working poor.” That is to say that these poor may be working temporary jobs with few benefits but they unable to or even unwilling to reveal the true condition of their financial or living situation.

Furthermore, years of deregulated labor and competition with China have created a wide market of low paying jobs. For a nation that is accustomed to lifetime jobs, there are few social safety nets for the unemployed. Thus, while the poor in Japan may fair considerably better than those in developing nations, they face a social taboo that attempts to cover up poverty. Thus the climb upwards is a difficult and lonely challenge.

– Grace Zhao 

Sources: New York Times, Japan Times, The Economist