Japan's Disposable Workers

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Dumping Ground

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Hard Time for Baby Boomers

“There is no work now. If big companies like Toyota are firing people, why should there
be any work here for us?“ said Hiroshi Nakao, 59 years old, former construction day laborer, who currently survives by picking through garbage and selling what he can. He is one of the hundreds of graying men in Kamagasaki, Osaka, Japan. It used to be a thriving day laborer’s town. Today, it is home to about 25,000 mainly elderly former day laborers, with an estimated 1,300 who are homeless.

The center of the town is the labor center, where workers come every morning to look for jobs. Construction companies and middle-men for various odd jobs used to come to the center every morning to pick up day laborers. The day rate was negotiated on the spot. Katsuyuki, 65, a former carpenter, said when he arrived 16 years ago, there were many jobs that paid 15,000 yen (US$190) a day. Recently, even for skilled workers like carpenter, there are few jobs and the wage has been constantly declining.

Instead of coming to the labor center in the morning, employers nowadays seek workers through cell phones and the internet, which many aging unemployed have no access to. Even if there are jobs, employers are unwilling to hire people older than 55 years old. Takeshi, 58, said “You can’t get welfare until you pass 60, so it is very tough between age of 55 to 60 years old.“ He said he has been making living by collecting cans for five years and earns up to 700 to 1000 yen (US$9 to US$13) in a good day. “I really want to work but I’m mentally prepared that I will never get another job for the rest of my life.”



Lonely Death

In Kamagasaki, unemployment and poverty are not the only problems. Alcoholism, street death, suicide, TB and most of all loneliness prevail. 

No work, nowhere to go, and nobody to turn to. So they kill themselves.

According to government survey, the average life expectancy of men in Kamagasaki is 73.1 years old, the shortest in Japan, while the national average is 78.53 years old. Men in Kamagasaki die rarely from old age but mostly from various illness triggered by a rough life style of drinking and sleeping on the streets. Tetsu, 65, a retired truck driver, says “Every year, many people die outside of the labor center. When it is cold, I see people frozen to death all the time. They drink cheap sake, lie down and die.”

Nori, 60, who survives by selling what he can from trash, witnessed a lonely death near a convenience store about a month ago. He says “Many people were passing by him but nobody said anything. I thought he looked strange and I talked to him but he didn’t respond. When I touched him, he was already stiff. I guess he either froze or drank himself to death. I called the police who asked me a few questions and that’s it — the end of someone’s life!” The majority of men in Kamagasaki don’t have family ties, they live and die alone as social outcasts from the mainstream “salary man” culture. When they die, their bodies are not often claimed by family members. The number of unclaimed bodies has increased steadily over years, reaching record high of 1524 in 2010 in Osaka which encompasses Kamagasaki.

Suicides are also common. Tetsu, 65, says ”Old people jump from a building because they cannot work. People who are stuck — those who are too old to work but too young to receive government assistance. No work, nowhere to go, and nobody to turn to. So they kill themselves.” 

Disappearing Day Laborer Towns in Japan
Day laborers towns are disappearing in Japan. Click map to read more.


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