Poverty in Japan scrutinized at multinational school event

by Kaho Shimizu

About 2,000 people gathered Saturday at Tokyo’s Kanda Hitotsubashi Junior High School to take in seminars, workshops, food, refreshment, music and films during a unique festival to address poverty in Japan.

At a glance, it looked like an ordinary school festival. The difference was that the symposiums and workshops touched on themes ranging from unions, to welfare, homelessness and income disparities.

The “antipoverty festa” was supported by a network of groups trying to fight poverty, including unions, nonprofit organizations, lawyers supporting the poor and heavily indebted people.

“In Japan, awareness toward the poor is low. People are indifferent to the plight of the homeless they see on the street,” said Masataka Togashi from Moyai, a nonprofit group working for the poor that was one of the main organizers of the event.

One of the symposiums featured foreign correspondents in Tokyo as panelists who discussed the apparent lack of public debate about poverty.

Panelist David McNeil of The Independent newspaper of Britain said Japan is becoming more like the United States, where the poor are being blamed for not working hard enough.

“In Britain, (low-wage workers or those without jobs) feel the sense of self-responsibility . . . but they don’t feel guilty about being poor,” McNeil said.

Yoon Choon Ho, of the South Korean broadcaster SBS, said poverty is considered a national problem in his country, where about 5 percent of the population, or 2.7 million people, are regarded as poor and are receiving benefits from the state. “In general in South Korea, (wage inequality) is regarded as something that can be attributed to society’s structural problems,” Yoon said, adding the government considers it a national problem.