Homeless undercut kiosks with used magazines

Some homeless people around JR Shinjuku Station run a thriving business selling discarded magazines at discount prices, but kiosks are complaining that their “illegal” rivals are damaging their sales.

Shinjuku is the nation’s busiest railway station in terms of daily passengers — about 3.2 million. It has also drawn media attention because outside its west exit, hundreds of homeless people live in a squatters’ community of cardboard dwellings.

When passengers discard weekly comic and newsmagazines in trash bins at the station during the morning rush hour, the homeless quickly pick them up. Then they open makeshift market stalls in and around the station concourse, and sell the magazines at less than half the regular price. Commuters can buy the used magazines for 100 yen each. The homeless people say they do it to earn their daily livelihood. But one such vendor reportedly makes as much as 4 million yen a month.

On May 13, Shinjuku police arrested five homeless people on suspicion of violating a law that regulates the use of public roads because they set up outdoor stalls to sell secondhand magazines without permission. The police were apparently prompted by complaints from irritated kiosk vendors. According to a homeless man in Shinjuku, a “trafficker” collects the discarded magazines from trash boxes and sells them for between 40 yen and 50 yen each to a vendor. “It is natural that I can sell the magazines at lower prices,” one such vendor said. “I do nothing wrong.”

When asked if such unlicensed sales are in violation of the law, a 48-year-old man said angrily, “I’m doing this business to help my friends who cannot work. If you don’t like it, give us jobs.”

A university student who is a regular customer of such vendors says he does not care about the dispute between the homeless and the kiosks. “Once I read the magazines, I throw them away anyway.”

“I buy the magazines if they are cheap. It doesn’t matter to me if their business is illegal or not,” another commuter said. Kiosk vendors say they suspect that in some cases, the magazines may have been stolen. “Sometimes the magazines that arrived from our official distributor mysteriously disappear,” one kiosk worker said. “It’s strange that fresh-looking magazines are put on sale by those vendors the morning they are published.”