Social and Pastoral Bulletin_No. 83/Apr. 15, 1998

Takasaki Keiko (Tabiji no Sato)
The winds that kept blowing during this last cold winter have already stopped and spring has finally come to Kamagasaki (Osaka). The people`s faces look calmer now than before. Helpers that came to Kamagasaki during the severe winter season to work with us as volunteers wished that the workers could strongly survive till the coming of spring. The former heavily tense atmosphere faded away and the town shows now a different face.

The town of Kamagasaki, home to daily workers, is only 800 sq. meters wide. It is said that over 25,000 workers live there. Year after year, the working conditions for the workers in town are getting more severe. As of last March, only 3,500 persons were daily employed. This is about half of the people who got jobs last year. Homeless people sleeping daily under the sky in Kamagasaki are usually over 200, but if one counts the homeless workers living nearby their numbers exceed 1,500.

One can see every day long lines of people waiting patiently for hours, near the park of the town, where the emergency kitchen distributes food to them.

The Jesuit social center --Tabiji no Sato is located in the middle of this town. The center owns a small old building and conducts a number of peculiar activities, different from those of other Christian organizations also engaged with the homeless workers of Kamagasaki.

Night Patrolling and Consultation Activities
On Thursday nights we always conduct patrol activities. These activities have continued for about 14 years already. They were started on Wednesday nights by a group of 2 or 3 persons. Back in 1987, Tabiji no Sato changed the day of patrolling to Thursday night. Since then, a special group, called “ Thursday Night Patrol Group” was established and 10 young people usually participate now in its activities. During the winter season, more than 20 persons take part in the patrolling activities. They are people attending our seminars and others who volunteer.

The main purpose is to look for sick workers sleeping under the sky in order to wake them up to make sure that they are safe. The Patrol group usually do not distribute food, although, once a month, a group of Catholic women from a Church of Osaka distribute boiled rice balls. We bring blankets and throwaway pocket heaters during the winter. Whenever there are sick persons who need medical care, we provide them with special free medical tickets so that they can receive treatment at the Social Medical Center in town. At times, we have also to call an ambulance to bring patients to the hospital.

As a result of our reflections, we realized that to wake up people during the night patrol was not sufficient. There were other important tasks we still had to address. The result was that the members of the patrol group decided to start a consultation desk at Tabiji. In the beginning, we only held consultations once a week, but after a while, a team of 6 members began holding consultations twice a week, on Fridays, the day after the patrolling and on Mondays, at the beginning of the week.

There is in town a “ Life Care Center ” run by a public welfare organization that offers free food and lodging for only two weeks. The Kyoyukai, a network of 10 different Christian groups working together in Kamagasaki, has got the right to use freely 10 places, there.

Among the people coming to our consultation desk we introduce sick persons and others badly in need of a rest to the “ Life Care Center ” . But, even if they can be temporarily accepted there, we continue discussing with them their own future life. We always try to avoid their dependence on us, and although we search together for realistic life patterns of the people who come to us, and for possibilities of receiving public welfare assistance and an apartment, we demand from them efforts to become self-reliant. After all, our attitude is one of cooperating with them. The situation in Kamagasaki is very severe and those coming for consultation are looking for jobs without success: most of them are forced to live under the open sky. The number of people coming to us is always increasing. Many have injured their backs and legs due to severe work for long years, others can not work any more, because they are sick, and since the time they became homeless they are getting weaker; the rest are people, who without a room to stay in, do not have sufficient food. Although they would like to work they are unable to for health reasons. Their age is between 30 and 80, but most of the people visiting us are in their late fifties and sixties. About 200 persons came for advice during the last 4 years, and 23 of them could enter apartments by introducing them to public welfare services. We still keep in contact with about 60 of them.
The consultation desk is now operating daily, because we have people coming to us practically every day to look for advice concerning their lives. They come to discuss with us their problems, or to report on the results of their medical examinations and even if they do not have any special problem they want to be heard. In fact, all kinds of people come to Tabiji no Sato. Besides those persons we meet and talk with during the night patrolling, there are some who come because a friend told them that they can discuss their problems with us, and that by coming here they could find some solution. In this way, little by little, the people come to know about the center by hearsay. Once a sick person, living in the street, came and told me how everything was going wrong with him. Then I asked him: “ Is there anything you want? ”. He said, “ No, all I wanted was to tell you my problems. I feel relieved when people listen to me ” . There are quite a few who drink sake together with others, but they do not have a real friend to speak with. Many others, due to past experiences, live very lonely lives; they can not trust people any more and shut themselves up. Some, as soon as they start drinking, shed copious tears crying; “ I feel lonely, very lonely ”. There are many such people here in this town. Maybe we can not be of help to them at this moment, but we just listen to them in hope that, by doing so, we can bring some light and warmth to the darkness and desperation they feel in their hearts. A Place for Relief
Mr. Y injured his back and has an advanced internal disease, but he is a heavy drinker. Of course, he can not work anymore and has been living in the streets for years. From time to time he comes to visit us and has been interned in welfare institutions several times. We wish he could be living there so he could have enough rest and food, but he can not stay there more than a month. Living far from Kamagasaki, together with people he does not know, makes him feel homesick, and he has come back several times to his former life. Then, he falls sick and is brought to the hospital, and as soon as he recovers he leaves the hospital and goes again back to a homeless life. In spite of that, he looks always smiling and stout. Sometimes I can see him with a group of workers drinking sake in a circle sitting on the road.

I sometimes visit those former homeless people living now in apartments. Before, they lived for years on daily wages, but, now that they receive public welfare money once a month, it is difficult for them to plan their budget. Attracted by the amount of welfare money they get, they feel great and buy useless articles or lend money easily to friends, but then they realize that all the money received has gone and once again they are left for weeks, till the next payment, without any more money left, so some hurry to see us.

They need to be trained about how to use the monthly welfare money, but it is not an easy task for them to change their life patterns after so many years of a homeless life. They need time because their new life requires a lot of endurance.

Once a year, we call upon those living in apartments and organize meals together with them: fine noodles in summer and hot food in winter. We, especially, make plans to invite for the occasion those we know are becoming estranged from us. Members of the “ Thursday`s Patrol Group” prepare the food by themselves. Since most of the participants live alone they enjoy such cheerful parties. We ourselves, of course, enjoy them also.

Not to cut our communication with them, we sometimes visit them in the hospital and send them Christmas greetings. We distribute to them also a Newsletter we print with letters of their companions in the hospital and news of our own activities.

Among the people we meet during the night patrolling and those visiting Tabiji no Sato, some recover and are able to find work, others who have moved to apartments plan their lives orderly. This kind of persons do not depend on us any more and are self-reliant.

Nevertheless, others return to their former homeless situation and go back to alcohol and a life of failure. Homeless people in Kamagasaki, when they were young, were accustomed to work as daily workers without feeling much anxiety about their future, but as the years passed they felt weaker and without strength to continue working the same way. Whenever I hear them explaining their loneliness and insecurity about their future I always have unbearable feelings. They shed tears in the middle of our conversation when they talk about their past and their families. Once I told a priest that I felt pained and powerless, when listening to those voices coming from the bottom of their hearts, that I did not know what todo. He answered: “ That person who talked to you put his heavy suffering in front of you. Your job now is to put that heavy burden in front of God”. Those words were a real inspiration to my work. People with all kinds of heavy burdens visit us at Tabiji no Sato, and many of them live on with a culpability complex. I believe that one of the most important tasks of our center is to keep an atmosphere, where those persons feel relieved by putting their heavy suffering in front of us.
Seminar House Activities
We also conduct seminars at our center. People come to our place to learn about the realities of Kamagasaki, the life of the daily workers and the homeless, and the reasons why such situations still exist in Japan. Our main task is to offer them possibilities of having experiences. Last year over 12 different groups used our facilities. There were high school students from Catholic schools, University students, groups of junior high school students and of youth belonging to churches. We had also study groups of women religious, seminarians of male religious congregations and Jesuit novices. Although the contents of each program are always discussed with each group, the stress is on the sharing of the experiences obtained. Participants learn about the history and the actual situation in this town, they listen to the activities of the people and organizations working in Kamagasaki, and walk with us through the town. The programs include, as well, the distribution of meals in the main park, night patrolling, and helping in some welfare institutions in town.Through these and other similar activities people coming from outside are able to get in contact with the realities of the daily workers and learn from those experiences. One can observe by their faces that very often the participants in these seminars are tense. People sometimes come with a false image that “ Kamagasaki is a fearful place ”.
But once a person comes here and sees the real face of this town and converses with the workers, those false images disappear. We often hear reflections like this, when people go back home: “ Kamagasaki is different from what I had imagined. I met here kind and cheerful persons. I go back full of energy ”.

Since many years ago one could hear about groups of young people attacking the homeless in many regions. Here in Kamagasaki we have a network group for the homeless. It consists of daily workers and volunteers. Their main activity is to defend the homeless from all kinds of harm. What causes the brutalities committed by young people against the homeless? What is the biggest issue and the real cause of those attacks? Through our seminars we also try to destroy all discriminations and prejudices against daily workers and the homeless. It is our hope that the young people coming here go back home to their natural environment, having profited from the shocking experiences and deep impressions they received here. Even if they practically forget everything, we still hope that, acquiring more social awareness, they will be able to look at the realities of places like Kamagasaki, as well as at the daily workers and the homeless, from a different perspective. We are waiting for more young people to participate in the seminars.

Meeting People
The secretariate of the network of Christian organizations (Kyoyukai) working in Kamagasaki is located at Tabiji no Sato. The secretariate publishes and distributes a newsletter, it is the liaison office for the member groups and assorts and distributes relief supplies sent to the Kyoyukai.
Tabiji no Sato receives also many relief goods from benefactors and groups from all over the country. We distribute them together with those sent to the Kyoyukai. The Kyoyukai is now supporting twice a week emergency kitchens in the main park. Each time about 2,000 meals are distributed using almost 200 kilos of rice.
Volunteers and Workers in a “Noodle Party”
(the second lady from the right is the author)
All the supplies of rice and rice tickets, the vegetables and condiments to be used for the meals are brought to the main park. During the night patrolling we distribute blankets to the homeless.People also come to us to receive clothing and other daily goods sent from many parts of the country, and the rest are sold cheaply in open bazaars by various groups of Kamagasaki. Sometimes we bring them to people in the hospital when we visit them. The relief goods are sent to us all through the year. We always welcome them. The sympathy and understanding of our collaborators, as well as their solidarity, sparing no efforts with regard to our activities, always give us strength to continue the work. We are often surprised and moved by the promptness of people of good will to answer our appeals for help, whenever we run out of blankets or of rice for the emergency kitchens.
Asian Friends” is a different group of volunteers supporting expatriate workers living around us. They use one of the rooms of Tabiji no Sato for telephone consultations conducted by them, by turns. Other groups, unable to own or rent their own offices, use also Tabiji no Sato for their meetings and contacts.

In this way, our center is often the meeting point of many people and a place for all kinds of commitments. We continue our activities strengthened by the good will of cooperators from all over the country and the understanding and cooperation of many people around us.

Tabiji no Sato keeps its doors open to all those who come for a visit. We accept and respect each one of those who, rejected by society, make desperate efforts to survive against suffering and loneliness; we want to make our center a place open to discussing together with others the current situation and the issues workers of Kamagasaki have to face.