Homelessness in Japan

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A homeless man in Tokyo.

Homelessness in Japan is a social issue primarily affecting middle-aged and elderly men. Homelessness is thought to have peaked in the 1990s as a consequence of the collapse of the Japanese asset price bubble and has largely fallen since then, although further economic downturns have at times increased the number of homeless people in the last ten years.


At the beginning of the 1990s, the homeless in Japan were viewed as a nuisance. The government tried to get rid of the street people "because the environment there needed beautification".[1] Due to endless bureaucratic obstacles, it was quite hard for the homeless to obtain benefits that they might have been eligible to receive. Only in 1997 did Tokyo at last acknowledge the existence of the homeless and start negotiating. Middle-aged and elderly men account for 95% [8] , the average age is 57.5 years old.[2]

Homelessness grew noticeably more widespread in Japanese society since the collapse of the Japanese asset price bubble across the 1990s, and the resulting "Lost Decade" of economic stagnation. This has resulted in higher unemployment, a contributing factor towards potential homelessness.

In 1998, officials claimed there were around 3,700 homeless in Tokyo alone. Homeless support groups estimated the number to be close to 5,000 and indicated that this number was rapidly increasing.[3] In 2001, the government reported there were approximately 25,000 homeless people in Japan.[4] In 2009, homelessness in Japan increased sharply due to the rise in unemployment.[5] As of 2014, the number of homeless people in Tokyo reached a record low, only about 1,697 people or one person for every 10,000 city inhabitants.[6]


According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare between January and February 2003, the total number of homeless people in Japan at that time was 25,296. However, according to another survey conducted by the Ministry, by January 2007 the number had fallen to 18,564 due to economic recovery across Japan.[7] At that time middle-aged and elderly men accounted for 95% of the homeless population,[8] with the average age being 57.5 years old.[7]

For the first time between June and July 2007 a survey was done by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in regards to people spending the night at Internet cafés and 24-hour shops. The study found that across Japan, the number of people either sleeping or staying up all night in these places was around 5,400.[9] The survey found that the number of homeless people in the eastern part of Japan, where the winter is comparatively colder, was 9,225;[10] while the number of homeless people in the western part of Japan (described in the study as areas west of Toyama, Gifu, and Aichi prefectures), where the winter is comparatively warmer, was 9,339.[10] Since the numbers were approximately the same, it was concluded that there was not a strong correlation between climate conditions and distribution of homelessness across the country. When divided by administrative divisions the highest number of homeless people was in Tokyo metropolitan area, at 2,672.[7] Second-highest was Osaka metropolitan area at 2,500, and third-highest was Kanagawa prefecture at 1,814 people. When divided by municipal districts, the highest number of homeless people was in the 23 districts of Tokyo, at 2,396.[7] Second-highest was Osaka city at 2,171 people, and third-highest was Yokohama city at 692 people.

In January 2010, a nationwide survey regarding the state of homelessness in Japan found that the number of homeless people at that time had fallen again to 13,124.[11]


In Western Japan, especially Osaka, there are many volunteer organisations and religious groups. The majority of these organisations are Christian, and provide assistance and emergency rice-feeding to the homeless population. This kind of support is also provided in Yokohama.

In August 2002, the "Special Act in regards to Supporting the Autonomy of the Homeless Population" (Japanese: jp:ホームレスの自立の支援等に関する特別措置法) was enacted, and proper support began to be offered by the country, including the first nationwide survey into the homelessness of the country, launched by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in February 2003. A factual investigation was also conducted in April 2007.

  • People without the income, savings or property to meet the basic necessities of living were able to receive livelihood protection.
  • Women escaping from domestic violence, or from former partners seeking to restart former relationships, were able to receive support from women's care institutions, refuges, and shelters.
  • In the case of minors, forms of support such as child welfare institutions were also made available.

Specific aspects[edit]

Some specific aspects of Japanese homelessness are due to the social structure of Japanese society. Historically, men were the sole providers for their families. Japanese companies believe that married men work better than unmarried ones do because the former feel more obligations and responsibilities toward their families. Hence, not only elderly men, who face ageism and cannot find employment, but unmarried men over 35 years old have difficulties in finding employment. It does not cause poorer men on average, but rather a greater variance, with increased number of both considerably rich and considerably poor men, in effect producing a greater number of homeless men than homeless women in Japan.[12] Furthermore, families usually provide more support for women than they do for men.[13]

Internet cafés and homeless[edit]

As of 2011, Japan is continuing to experience economic recession. Finding even low-paid jobs is not easy. For ¥1,500 to ¥2,000 per night homeless people have been staying in Internet cafés or capsule hotels,[14] where they get an individual room (space) and a shower, television, soft drinks and Internet access.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] share-international.org, accessed January 28, 2011
  2. ^ "Google Translate". translate.google.com.
  3. ^ Homelessness in Japan share-international.org, accessed June 1, 2009
  4. ^ Levinson, David (2004). Encyclopedia of Homelessness. 1. SAGE. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-7619-2751-8.
  5. ^ Japan's homeless BBC News, accessed June 1, 2009
  6. ^ http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/10/27/3583324/tokyo-homeless/
  7. ^ a b c d 厚生労働省 (2011). ホームレスの実態に関する全国調査結果について.
  8. ^ http://www.scn-net.ne.jp/~shonan-n/news/030222/030222.html
  9. ^ 厚生労働省 (2007). 日雇い派遣労働者の実態に関する調査及び住居喪失不安定就労者の実態に関する調査の概要 (PDF).
  10. ^ a b 厚生労働省 (2007). 第2部 ホームレスに関する概数調査の結果 (PDF).6ページ
  11. ^ "ホームレス等生活困窮者の支援の現状 に関する調査事業報告書" (PDF). 日本総合研究所. Retrieved 2017-09-28.
  12. ^ Japan's homeless face ageism csmonitor.com, accessed June 1, 2009
  13. ^ "Asia: The Big Issue Japan".
  14. ^ Justin McCurry (28 September 2007). "Tokyo dreaming". Guardian. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
  15. ^ Internet Cafés and homeless inventorspot.com, accessed June 1, 2009

External links[edit]