The group "Yotsuya Onigiri Nakama" (Soup Kitchen Companions) was established at St. Ignatius Kojimachi Church, back in Easter of the year 2000. Since then, various activities have been organized to support the homeless around Tokyo and Yotsuya stations and Hibiya Park, like cooking and distributing boiling rice on Saturdays, conducting consultation on Mondays, bringing the sick to hospitals and welfare institutions, or visiting the homeless in their apartments. (Reference: Social and Pastoral Bulletin No. 103, July 20, 2001)
Shibata Yukinori, staff of the Jesuit Social Center, interviewed 2 Jesuit Brothers, Cique and Minai, on March 11, 2004. Brother Cique came to Japan in 1958 and after several years of ministry, as worker, is now health supervisor of Jesuits at the SJ House (Yotsuya). Brother Minai joined the Jesuits in 1983 and has been working for several years in the Treasurer's office of the Jesuits in Tokyo.

First, I would like to ask about how did it happen that you came to participate in the activities of the "Soup Kitchen Companions"? Br. Cique has been involved from the very beginning, isn't?
When these activities started, Mr. Iwata and Sakai, the founding members, came to the SJ House to invite me to join them, because you introduced me to them. So, you were the occasion for me to contact the group.
Influenced by Br. Cique I started to join in June of last year. I'm still a young comer. Accounting is a meticulous job and I was looking for some opportunity to help in St. Ignatius Church, because I was not helping there. Then, one day, Br. Cique told me about the Soup Kitchen activities and I went to see them, because I was especially interested in working for the poor.

I understand that you are participating in the activities of those visiting every Saturday the homeless, about how often are you involved?
When I began, I participated about 3 or 4 times a month, but now I can't do it more than twice a month.
I have to take care of the sick and it's impossible to go every Saturday, but I go as often as I can. I only can go to places near Yotsuya station. A volunteer doctor conducts medical consultations for the homeless in Ginza, every 3rd and 4th Saturday of the month. Usually an average of 15 or 20 persons come. I transport a table and chairs, by car, and bring them back again. On rainy days, I also transport the boiled rice and tea to a meeting place in Sukiyabashi. From there volunteers bring them to 4 different sites.
There are 5 groups. One of them visits places around Yotsuya station and the other 4 meet at Ginza's Sukiyabashi. Starting from there, they take different directions. One group goes to Tokyo station passing through Tokyo Forum, 2 groups to Hibiya Park and the last one heads toward Danjobashi, after crossing Showa Avenue. All gather in Tokyo station. Since each time the leaders point out where to go, volunteers have an opportunity to participate in all 5 groups.

Activities start at 6:00 PM and at what time at night do they finish?
Volunteers bring the food and tea by train and when it rains Br. Cique transports them by car so that everything, together with toothbrushes, daily articles and the info newsletter to be distributed, reaches Sukiyabashi by 6:30. Each group distributes them to the homeless scattered in various places and when they finish, usually after 8 PM, everybody gathers in the Yaesu Exit of Tokyo station. After some rest, they start to distribute the food and articles at around 9 PM to the homeless of Tokyo station.
The reason to start the distribution at 9 PM is because the homeless cannot enter the station before that time. They only allow them to enter the station building after 9 PM. At 1 AM they force them from there till about 5 AM. In fact, during the coldest hours they are left defenseless in the open. Very hard, indeed.
After distributing the food, the volunteers gather again till later than 10 PM, so that we come back home not earlier than 11 at night.
How many persons do you meet each evening?
Each time about 300 rice balls are cooked and 21 kg of rice are used. This is not enough usually, except on rainy days, when the homeless take refuge in undergrounds.
When we distribute the food we ask them for their health, jobs or different matters. When there are sick people or others who are looking for a job we make appointments with them at 8:30 AM every Monday by the Marunouchi exit of Tokyo station. Volunteers wait for them there and bring them to Welfare public offices. We also ask the homeless whether they need something else and try to give them what they need in the next visit, but we do not promise anything because we are never sure we can satisfy their needs. Since they might need it we always bring along toothbrushes and razors.

When you meet with them, most probably they will not immediately ask for help, isn't it?
The first time there is practically no reaction. After meeting them several times some kind of friendship arises.
I guess it was about 2 years ago. Two homeless persons from the vicinity of Yotsuya asked us whether they could also take part in the distribution of food. One of them told us. "We thank you for the distribution of food, daily goods, the info letter, etc., but what we are really grateful for, is because you are always the same persons coming to visit us and that gives us a sense of security, so that we can tell you our true names. We thank you from the button of our hearts."
Minai said that already. Every Monday morning, at around 8:30, the welfare team gathers in Tokyo station to assist the homeless to look for apartments or go to hospitals. Various documents are needed but homeless people are not able to prepare them and we assist them. Public welfare offices that usually were not kind to homeless people have, seemingly, changed their attitudes. Volunteers accompany them to the public offices to help them fill the documents and assist them with the formalities. Since society, in general, despises them and is not interested in the homeless, the volunteers take personal care of each one. I feel extremely happy about it.
Most people are afraid of the homeless the first time they meet with them, because they are dirty and they feel scare. In all societies is the same. Once you come in contact with them, more than the feeling that you are doing something for them, one starts changing. I often hear people saying: "these homeless people are just lazy". This is a very light judgment. Unconsciously we are afraid of the homeless. We fear for our own security. This is, certainly, not the voice of the true gospel.
I'm most grateful to the activities of the "Soup Kitchen Companions". There is a big difference in the attitudes of those involved in such activities, before and after their involvement. I often hear this from participant volunteers.

It seems that many volunteers are young people. Is it right?
Generally speaking most of the volunteers are employees, but there are young people among them, as well as high school and university students.
There are also married people, especially many married women. Sometimes people come asking, "What could I do?" There is no much a person can do, but when many come together big things happen.
Sometimes people also say that this is not a task for the church. Well, I disagree. What does Jesus say we should do when there are people hungry or thirsty, when they don't have clothes? If Jesus were here now what should have done?
Anyhow, what is our attitude when we go to meet with the homeless? Curiosity is not our motivation. What really matters is that we meet a person like ourselves we respect.
Two years ago 2 Spanish journalists that visited Japan heard of the group "Soup Kitchen Companions" and asked me to accompany them for a visit to homeless people living around Yotsuya. Naturally, as journalists, they wanted to know their names and the reasons why those people were living homeless, but I told them: "We never ask them those matters, because that is a privacy problem".
In relation with this, Minai and all other volunteers speak to the homeless naturally and not from up down. This is very important. We learn many things in our contact with homeless people.
People are accustomed to say that they are lazy, but do we know their past? In case we had to go through similar experiences what we would be able to do? There is a lot to reflect here.

Brother Minai, was it easy for you to deal with the homeless in such a way?
There are, in all, 5 groups that conduct visits to several places with at least one male person; the other 2 or 3 members are women. The reason to have one male person is a precaution to prevent possible dangers if the members were only women. Each group has an appointed leader and I asked to participate as a mere 'soldier' for at least a year. I want to observe and study first and then make up my mind. For the time being, I decided to participate transporting the boiled rice by rucksack.
Of course, I also speak with the people about trivial matters first, but the homeless are already resting when we go and, as I mentioned before, they only allow them to remain in the station for a few hours, so they are in deep sleep. Judging from the real situation we are not always able to talk long with them. They will be the ones to ask for a long conversation. I learn a lot from some lady volunteers that are very skillful listeners.
We also distribute a Newsletter with information of weekly news. For instance, helpful things like these are written there, "if you have difficult problems please, gather at the North exit of Tokyo station by 8:30 AM".
On the other hand, many desire a shelter. In other words, Tokyo lacks public facilities.
One more point is that there are more non-Christian volunteers or maybe half and half, Christians and non-Christians, actively participating. Some doubt whether that is really good. But that is not something to worry, because more important than to teach catechism is to experience what Jesus did in his life. This is different from a person becoming a Christian or not.
Don't you mention anything about Christianity in your activities?
No, we don't. My understanding is that we try not to say it. Even in the Newsletter we distribute to the homeless, the name of St. Ignatius Church does not appear, although you can smell it somehow. Just a few days ago when we were distributing the food I did not notice that a policeman was standing by. When I realized that he was watching us I went to him and explained our position. He looked satisfied with my explanation. In occasions like this, if you mention the Church then, most probably, people stop worrying.
Once, a homeless was in a critical condition near Yotsuya and I went with Mr. Iwata there, but it was difficult for us to call an ambulance. Then, I went to the police box and without mentioning it they asked me whether I had come from the Church. They called the ambulance that arrived immediately.
Such cases are increasing. Of course, this is also true in other countries, although in Japan it's more visible. We, as human beings and before thinking that we are Christians, should make other Japanese think about how to face this issue, without trying to give lessons to others. We must take concrete steps and stop being unconcerned with the homeless.
There were no groups related to homeless people in Japan 15 years ago. Now, many small groups actively involved in Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi are becoming big. Each one of us is busy, but if we share our free time we can become stronger together.

We run from our center a group that supports assistance programs in Vietnam and sometimes school children come to visit us. Most of them are interested in Vietnamese street children, but their lives are so different that is difficult for them to understand the issue. When I ask them whether they saw homeless people at home, they usually answer in the affirmative. I tell them the following: "It's difficult for you to study the situation of street children in Vietnam, but it's rather easy to know the lives of homeless people at home. I don't ask you to try to talk to a homeless person, but I invite you to join a group that conducts patrol activities in places where homeless people are."
Sometimes mothers come with High School children to know about these activities and then join also us. It doesn't mean that all will remain, but we offer them a place to experiment.
Before leaving for the activities, the leaders explain the program of the day to those volunteers that had come for the first time. It really makes a difference to have an introductory explanation. First comers, young or not, cannot be of help immediately, maybe, but they deal naturally with the homeless. At the same time, the important thing is that this becomes an opportunity for personal reflection.

Even among Jesuits you can hear that, "I can understand the importance of the social apostolate, but it's difficult to see who are the poor." From this point of view, the activities with the homeless present a very good practical approach for experiences that, without becoming a heavy burden, do not require special training, isn't it?
It's impossible for me to forget the words of Fr. Arrupe: "The way of thinking of Jesuits changes according to those with whom they are in contact." Fr. Arrupe established the work with refugees, isn't it? The mentality of Jesuits changed because of that. In my case it is the homeless.
Since time ago, I think that schools and universities should have one-month experiment programs. When students are shocked in contact with social issues their attitudes are prone to change, I think. It's indeed very important to offer opportunities so that people find a turning point in their ways of thinking.
I heard that there were many ups and downs till the church recognized the "Soup Kitchen Companions" as a parish activity, but now parishioners show much understanding. Every first Saturday and Sunday of the month, fixed dates for rice collection, many people contribute.

All want to do something and something must be done. Isn't it? If somebody shows possibilities for action then many people collaborate. Don't you think like that?
It's not only in the Church. I think that this is also true of society and of schools. As I mentioned already, I decided to work as a "soldier" for a year and, then, starting from things I can do, I plan to continue trying to locate myself at the level of the homeless.
As soon as I arrived in Japan I went to work to a construction company. My companion workers, at that time, taught me how to use my body and how to care for my bodily health. They work in order to eat and if they become sick or wounded they cannot eat. I became humble and unable to take a triumphant pose. I continued working silently. My companion workers taught me many things. The homeless are doing it now.
Thank you very much.

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