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Mr Yamauchi\'s loss and the problem facing Japan\'s homeless

September 25 2009
Yasue: Yasue:
A Japanese man has lost the right to use a tent as his legal address, a court in Osaka rules A Japanese man has lost the right to use a tent as his legal address, after a court in Osaka ruled against him. The man had initially won the case in the lower court last year, but this ruling was eventually overturned by Osaka High Court. Yuji Yamauchi, who has lived in a removable lightweight tarpaulin tent in a park in the western industrial city of Osaka since 2000, was told by the High Court it was illegal for him to use a park for his address. Local news agency Kyodo quoted the Osaka High Court as saying in its judgement: "The tent is simply constructed of pieces of wood and tarpaulin. It can easily be removed and is not fixed to the ground." The authorities argued by this rationale that the tent did not meet the standards of a residence by 'conventional wisdom'. They concluded that: "Under the city parks law, it is not permitted for a private individual to use a park as their address." Mr Yamauchi's case had been sent to court by the City Office, which appealed against the original ruling from concerns that it would encourage other people to move into the park. Mr Yamauchi told Kyodo that he faced difficulty joining the public health insurance system and registering as a voter without a legal address. The 56- year-old said he planned to take the case to the Supreme Court. Suzuko Yasue, who works for the Homeless Human Rights Resources Centre in Tokyo, said the ruling was disappointing: "Today's verdict is a great shame. It is very difficult to exercise one's rights as a citizen without a registered address. "We want people to be able to register themselves as living in the park and use that as a springboard to return to an independent life," she added. "No one wants to live in a park forever." Four years ago, a Japanese government survey found there were more than 25,000 homeless people living in the country, and that more than 40% lived in parks. There has been a great shift towards park-dwelling since the 1990s, when the economic crisis saw unemployment rocket. The country had experienced rapid growth from the 1960s, fuelled by cheap labour and mass housing. When the recession hit, it hit the casual labourers hardest. Osaka was particularly affected by this, as it was a city that depended on construction for much of its wealth. Osaka has the largest homeless population in Japan - 7,700 by official figures, and more than 10,000 unofficially. Japan has a relatively high average for the ages of its rough sleepers - 55.9 years, according to latest figures. Rather than sleep on the streets or face the hostels, the majority of the country's rough sleepers found the instantly recognisable blue tents to be more comfortable. As the recession continued, more people became homeless, and communities sprang up. Many of Japan's parks are dotted with these blue tents, visible from space (see them on Google Maps Japan). In Osaka, a homeless people's association has been set up to create a support network for those who live in the city's parks. The community pools their resources to buy food and other necessary items, with all the members of the association taking an active role within their community. More recently, they have even started to grow food together in the park. But, as they spread, the colonies are becoming more at risk from being destroyed, as the Japanese authorities try to evict people like Mr Yamauchi. It also seems that the people are being moved on because of the city's sporting aspirations. Back in 2000, it was with hopes of wooing the Olympic committee (it went to China), and this year it is in anticipation of the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Athletics. The people were given a deadline of 21st January to leave peaceably, or face having their tents removed. Two years ago, the government shut Tokyo's Okubu Park in an attempt to rid it of rough sleepers. The closure was the last move in a series of initiatives carried out by the authorities, which included concreting over parts of the greenery and removing the children's play area in order to make the area less comfortable for those who camped there. In the oldest of Tokyo's parks, Ueno Onshi, benches have been made 'anti-homeless.' They have a metal arm going into the back centre of the bench, and the seat tilts downwards.