Hanafusa Ryuichiro (Jesuit Priest)     

Fr. Hanafusa went to Kamagasaki in 2001 and worked at the "Tabiji no Sato," Jesuit Center for almost 2 years and a half. In 1982, Fr. Susukida Noboru, SJ, had founded the center, mainly to take care of weak and senior workers of Kamagasaki. At present, the center promotes living-in seminars for young people who would like to spend a short time in the workers' town and functions as the liaison office of Kamagasaki's Christian Network. This article, edited by Shibata Yukinori, is a talk given by Fr. Hanafusa at St. Ignatius Church that was sponsored by the Catholic group "Melquisedeque.

I visited Kamagasaki for the first time to help out Fr. Susukida whom I happened to know when I was a student. I had promised him to work at the "Tabiji no Sato" center he had founded, but since I joined the Jesuits I was not able to fulfilled my promise. In 2001, about 20 years later, I went to work full time there, because there were no Jesuits working there anymore. Let me say something about my experiences there.

Literacy Education Trials
The history of Kamagasaki as a workers' town goes back to the Edo period. Christian organizations and labor unions have been dedicated to social activities there to try to solve basic problems of the workers like food, clothing and shelter, since long ago, nevertheless my main interest was in the field of literacy education of the workers living in Kamagasaki. Recently I participated in a "Forum to Revitalize the Town of Kamagasaki" and a young person of my age that was sitting next to me whispered: "I want to learn how to read and write." I sympathized with him and that provoked the beginning of literacy education in March 2002.
Such activities would look unthinkable in today's Japan, but among the workers of Kamagasaki that have finished middle high school there are persons that cannot read or write, and many of those graduated from high school are not able to write the ABC. The Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire that has influenced me wrote in one of his books, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed that the learning of reading and writing is a very important activity, because it makes the oppressed to change and to manifest in public oneself as well as social realities. Certainly, literacy education impresses me deeply because through it people recover their humanity and are able to express themselves.
Freire criticizing modern education calls it "banking education" or a one-way imposition of knowledge, while the education of the oppressed is a "dialogue-type education" that draws out all the qualities people have. As a result, literacy classes are, in principle, person-to-person dialogue lessons. Naturally, since volunteers are needed I started by organizing volunteer training courses.
It is not enough to teach how to read and write but to help people in their daily lives, like finding jobs and shelter. There are times when one is asked to give advice on important life issues, but what really matters is to listen carefully to what workers are much proud of, like "years ago I made the rails of the bullet train," or "I made such and such building." By listening to them, mutual trust builds up and little by little people begin to speak out their minds and manifest their suffering and pains.
Sharing or what is called "activity" takes also place. For instance, "take a look at your hands." They look at their rough hands and start to talk about the work they have been doing. That makes them remember their past. For many workers and homeless people of Kamagasaki today is the only existing reality.
There is neither yesterday, nor tomorrow. Human relationships are broken and even family links are gone. By sharing and writing many start to remember their private past. Present and past become united and human relationships begin to function so that people recover their selves.
For instance, Mr. A stays at night in a cheap inn that costs him 500 Yen and for his meal he just sips a cup of instant noodles. He barely writes Japanese but he has never written a letter. After attending literacy classes he wrote his mother a letter, the first letter he had written in all his life. Then, his mother answered him back, also the first time his mother wrote a letter. But, since his mother was illiterate she asked somebody to write it for her. In the letter, the mother told him that, formerly, he accustomed to phone her when he was drunk asking her for money, but now she felt happy upon receiving his warm letter for the first time to tell her that he was in good health. Just one letter had the effect of repairing the relationship between mother and son.
A different person is Mr. B who knows how to write Japanese characters and could even recite the songs of Ishikawa Takuboku. Every time he met people he accustomed to criticize their statements saying: "no matter what you say, the reality is..." But then, one day he changed into a leader pulling others to action. Together with other companions he established a group to perform "kamishibai" for children. They accustom to move around kindergartens to play shows for the kids.
It is true that when persons stay together tend to change their lives. There are people that speak out for the first time that they are Koreans living in Japan. There was a person that was interned in a hospital with cancer in the pancreas and I baptized him the last day of my stay in Kamagasaki. Before his death he told me: "I'm really thankful because I die surrounded by friends." Watching people as they recover themselves, I thought that, no matter who that person could be, everyone is worthy of human dignity.
Local Currency "Kama"
While in Kamagasaki I got used to the "local currency kama." Money is now the center of everything around us. A movement to make relationships among people richly human, starting from local communities, is being developed in many places of the world. This consists in the use of local currencies. Such currencies developed also in Japan after Michael Ende, a German author of children's tales, explained their use in an NHK TV program. Concretely speaking, "Kama" is a local currency that is recognized in Kamagasaki. One-hour work is worthy 300 Kama. This becomes the object of exchange between those persons who look for goods other persons may possess. This way people help each other. All I had to do, as a volunteer, was to watch and support those involved in the trade of the Kama and that role satisfied me.
A magazine that was distributed explained concretely about all sorts of goods that could be traded. People were given a "kama pocket-book" where they will write a plus sign for all those services or goods they can offer and a minus one for those services they receive.
There were successes and failures, mainly because a clear distinction could not be made between services offered and received. The result is that places where Kama could be used and gained have to be positively created. As an example, kama could be used to pay for the morning breakfast at the "Supportive House" of homeless people and at the Yoga center. As for acquiring kama, the making of folded paper cranes that were brought to hospitals, when people visited companion homeless interned there for a long time, other menial or temporary jobs provided opportunities to gain kama.
Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, among friends they would give things away without asking anything back. It is also true that, since such local currency has nothing to do with money, people look careless.
The poorest, like those without a shelter and without anything to eat that day, fall into a doze without participating in the system. Those able to offer goods or services to others increase gradually their kama and cannot get rid of a capitalist profit mentality. People seem glad when hey increase their "plus signs" in offering services and goods, but they dislike increasing amounts of "minus signs." So much I got to understand living there.
In short, a currency becomes the measure to weight the quantity of human acts, but I was made aware of the fact that, after all, human mutual support and acts of service to others cannot be measured quantitatively. The "to be" dimension is much more important. When thinking about how to revitalize human local relationships the device of a local currency could become necessary and, from the point of view of community building, the kama currency could be taken as a successful story.

Forum to Renew Kamagasaki Town
Business in Kamagasaki is at its lowest level. Construction companies remain idle. People realize that if things remain as they are the town will collapse and then rose up. Christian groups and labor unions have always been supportive of the workers of Kamagasaki. Shop owners and the hotel business, traditionally considered workers' oppressors, due to their capitalist business practices, could not, these days, remain any more antagonistic of the workers. Although everybody keeps their own stand and attitudes, the whole town joined in common efforts to revitalize Kamagasaki from 1999.
Town building is a compulsory element to assist those persons socially weak. The whole town is revitalized when the socially weak are taken into account and not excluded from the plans to rebuild it. A few days ago, I reached the same conclusion watching a TV program to rebuild Birmingham (England). A park in the center of that town had become a red light district and in case the prostitutes would be evicted from there, they would expand all around the town. The result of many efforts to care for the girls and to support them has resulted in the renewal of the whole town. Two main concepts were mentioned. The first one was: "social inclusion" or nobody should be excluded. The poorest are the most affected by social problems and, as a result, a good solution to the issues of the poorest will become a good answer to everybody's problems. The second concept consists in the "quality of life." To force the poor to enter institutions or to isolate them does not end the problem of poverty, but on the opposite, to raise the quality of their living standards is the only way to provide a basic solution to their issue.
Non-profit organizations (NPO) possess the concepts and know how to address the problems of town building. The Administration has finances and Universities knowledge. A network called, Forum for the Renewal of Kamagasaki, links all kinds of people, like religious, welfare groups and Kamagasaki shop owners. There is no need to get a consensus, but just to join hands together. It becomes more of a workshop than a conference. The main goal is to look for good opinions that could be implemented and not to discuss what is good or bad. Citizens' organizations of the poor and groups of local residents in third world countries are all based in community organizations to renew the towns.

Methodology of Assistance
After talking about my experiences at Kamagasaki let me explain some methods for assistance. I like to think that there are 3 main ways of assistance.
I would like to call the first one: "Good-will volunteers" or those who with a top-down attitude help those homeless workers that are at the bottom of society. Most probably you can find many people like that in our churches. Some people know such types by the expressions they use, for instance, people running welfare institutions call the homeless "people using their services." There is no doubt that those services are quite important, but the weakness of such activities is that the people at the bottom cannot become self-sufficient. Using a Christian expression, the image given is that of a "compassionate God."
The second way of assistance is: "confrontation and fighting" or, in other words, the only way the socially weak could change society would be by fighting together. Labor Unions and groups like the Catholic Justice and Peace belong to this type. People in this category call the homeless workers "companions." For instance, at the time of a funeral of a lonely homeless person, the local administration allocates about 300,000 Yen, but sometimes the funeral parlor performs the ceremony without Buddhist prayers or flowers. When that happens there is a need to fight. Here the target is clear, but in a confrontation there are times of defeat. This type of assistance looks as if one is helping others to become self-sufficient, but sometimes builds a relationship of dependency by only listening to demands. In Christian terms, one can use the image of a "God that does not forgive injustice."
The last way of assistance is: "building communities." The direction taken is similar to the one above, but its conceptual basis is that human persons grow within a community and the target is self-sufficiency that is communitarian. Literacy classes, as well as "Larche communities" established with mentally handicapped people as such. Certainly in Japan, types number 1 and 2 are much needed, because the people at the bottom are exposed to very weak situations. Using a Christian expression, the image given is that of "Christ leading his disciples." Why is it that Jesus selected and taught his disciples? The answer is, because the disciples = the Church are a community.

My Christian Faith in Kamagasaki
My last remarks will be, how my living experiences in Kamagasaki changed my Christian understanding.
Firstly, The Holy Spirit is strongly working within the people of Kamagasaki and their community support. God is not only present in the Church also outside the Church there are many wonderful people. That's why during my stay in Kamagasaki I never became pessimistic. There one can really feel the work of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, I understood why Jesus liked to be with weak people. The Holy Spirit moves easily among the weak and those who are despised by others, love is naturally accepted. We tend to think that Heaven is for saints and all those who did wonders, but the Bible says that, "unless you become like children, you will not enter into heaven." Values there are different from those of the world. This is so real in Kamagasaki that there is no need of any comments.
My third remark is: "then, what concretely is the Kingdom of God?" For me, it is community and networking. The 12 apostles were a community and the kingdom of God was a network linking them to the Church and to people outside the Church, on a horizontal not on a top down relationship. Such an image is most probably similar to the expression "communion of communities" used by the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference (FABC). But, I do not think that the Church is at the center of the network. Jesus and the Gospel are the center and the Church is nothing but a community.
I fully agree with the remarks I heard at Kamagasaki: "The good thing about the Church is the network links it has, but the bad side is that she tries to do everything by herself."
A community should never dispel its weakest members. On the opposite, whenever a community accepts weak members, things run smoothly. Efforts at the bottom bring good results for the whole Japanese society. Working in Kamagasaki I deeply felt the truth of the message of the Gospel, that the small ones are the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world."
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