THE FACES BEHIND THE STATS

Artist portrays U.K., Japan homeless

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

The often marginalized homeless people of Japan and Britain now have a “voice,” thanks to a new exhibition that has just opened in London.

“Pavement Blossom” is the work of artist Geoff Read, who is exhibiting 100 of his drawings of Japanese and British people living rough.

He hopes his work will raise awareness about their plight.

Read has spent several years working with homeless people on their portraits and involves them in every aspect of the drawing so it reflects their own personality.

Personal stories often run alongside the image. Often they relate to aspirations or personal experiences of life on the streets.

The exhibition is one of a series of events being organized by Links Japan, which promotes British-Japanese relations, to compare and contrast homelessness in both countries.

Last year, a report drawn up by the group called on Japan to build more accommodations for the country’s estimated 25,000 homeless.

A frequent visitor to Japan, Read found many of his subjects in Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Ikebukuro districts and in his hometown of Manchester.

“I hope through my work that the public will learn that the homeless are not lazy . . . and are worthy of our support and respect,” Read said. “The people who agreed to work with me did so because they wanted to create more awareness (of homelessness) and communicate with the public. They thanked me for the support they received afterwards.”

“The homeless people I work with in Britain are surprised that Japan has so many people living rough. They were impressed by their (Japanese counterparts’) independence and strength of mind,” he added.

Read said he believes one of the solutions to the problem in Japan is providing more affordable housing.

Charles Frazer, who helped to contribute to the recent report, was surprised to find that Japanese society — well known for its social cohesion — is “extremely hostile” to the homeless.

“What struck me was that there was no sense of social solidarity,” he told those attending the exhibition’s launch.

Frazer said there was a lack of political leadership on the issue, and that authorities seemed to merely accept the situation rather than address the problem.

He called on the Japanese government to construct more emergency shelters.

Japanese Ambassador to Britain Yoshiji Nogami said he was very impressed by the artwork and also the recent report on homelessness.