OSAKA — Hoping to imitate the success of its British namesake, a company was recently set up here to publish a magazine called Big Issue Kansai, which will help homeless people earn money by selling the paper on the street.
The 32-page color magazine, to be published twice monthly beginning in late August, will be sold on the street by homeless people who register as vendors. They will earn 120 yen for each 200 yen copy sold.
“What we are doing is not charity but the creation of a job for homeless people,” said Miku Sano, a staffer of Big Issue Japan. “That is the idea behind The Big Issue (in Britain and other countries).”
The Big Issue was first launched as a monthly magazine in London in 1991 to enable the homeless to earn an income and regain their self-esteem. The magazine became a weekly publication in 1993.
“It was about giving homeless people work and not about giving them more soup and blankets,” said A. John Bird, the magazine’s founder and editor in chief. Bird came to Osaka on Tuesday to help with the launch of Big Issue Japan. “What we wanted was to give people an exit from the street rather than keeping them on the street.”
With experienced editorial staff creating the magazine, The Big Issue has expanded to cities across Britain, Europe, South Africa and Australia.
In Britain alone, some 250,000 to 300,000 copies are sold every week. About 6,000 homeless people a year work with Big Issue, and between 60 and 70 percent of them say they have been influenced positively by the work, according to Bird.
Big Issue Foundation was created in 1995 to provide support for the homeless in areas such as housing, work, job training and mental and physical health. All post-investment profits from the magazine go to the foundation.
Big Issue Japan was set up May 23 with startup capital of 3 million yen by a group of people impressed with the organization’s activities. It hopes eventually to attract ad revenue.
Big Issue Kansai will contain not only arts and entertainment articles but also hard news and feature stories about social issues that do not appear in the mass media, its editors say. Translated versions of articles that have appeared in Big Issues in other countries will make up about one-third of the material.
Bird said the quality of the magazine is important to its success.
“One of the reasons we wanted to be a useful publication is because it means the homeless are proud to sell it and the public are pleased to buy it, so it equalizes the relationships between the purchaser and the vendor,” he said.
As none of the staff of Big Issue Japan have been in close contact with the homeless before, they will receive assistance from a nonprofit organization working to support the homeless in the Kamagasaki area of Osaka’s Nishinari Ward, known for its high numbers of homeless people and day laborers.
Bird, who met with homeless people in Kamagasaki and other areas of the city on Tuesday, said he was “astonished” by the number of homeless in Osaka, but he is optimistic because they seemed eager to work. Official figures show there are more than 7,700 homeless people in Osaka, the highest number for all of Japan’s cities.
“I think you have a much stronger tradition of self-help (than in Britain). I saw many people trying to get themselves some kind of work,” Bird said, adding that this makes him very positive about the launch of Big Issue Kansai.
In Britain and other countries where a hand-out culture exists, it is difficult to motivate the homeless to work when they can get more money through begging, he said.
“My advice (to the Big Issue Japan staff) is to always remember that the people you work for can help themselves if you can help them,” Bird said. “But you can’t do everything. You have to give them the opportunity to stand on their own two feet.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.