Japanese Christians concerned about growing poverty among the young

By Ecumenical News International
December 24, 2007

Japanese Christian groups are noticing increasing poverty among young adults in a country that once had an image that its companies provide lifetime employment and that it is a country that has a strong middle class base - writes Hisashi Yukimoto.

"If one applies the commandment, "You shall not kill", this should mean allowing poor young adults in Japan who have insecure lives as part-time and contract workers to live properly," says the Rev. Iwao Hayashi of the United Church of Christ in Japan.

Hayashi was speaking during a presentation by Karin Amamiya, a 32-year-old popular anti-poverty activist leader and author of books, including "Let Us Live! Young People Becoming Refugees", which has sold 50 000 copies since March.

"It also means, 'You shall not steal'," said 47-year-old Hayashi during a meeting with Amamiya at his church in Tokyo on 7 December. The pastor was also pointing a finger at a major Japanese temping agency that had described the salaries of many such workers as "data equipment costs". The pastor said, "Using classical terminology, they are exploiting them."

Amamiya, who has shed her past life as an ultra-nationalist punk rock singer, pointed out that there are a million insecure young people moving from place to place as day labourers in manufacturing industry in Japan. They are often called "net café refugees" as they spend nights at Internet cafés and have no fixed abodes. "They can become homeless at any time," said Amamiya, a non-Christian who held a meeting at a church for the first time.

Japan's national broadcaster, NHK, earlier in December re-broadcast "Working Poor I & II", two documentaries first aired in 2006, which have since won several domestic media awards. A columnist in The Japan Times newspaper wrote on 16 December, "One of the experts interviewed in the programme said he believes the working poor will eventually become the majority."

"The quality that non-Japanese have always admired about Japan," the expert was quoted saying, referring to Japan's hallowed industriousness, "is being squandered, and very quickly." The columnist added, "What's shocking, is how quickly poverty has become structural in a country that still tends to think of itself as being uniformly middle class."

Amamiya said some "net café refugees" once had apartments in Tokyo where they lived without having to pay a deposit for rent, but nonpayment of the rent, for even a day, results in their ejection. The former punk singer, who is also a leader of an advocacy group against poverty in Japan, known as the Anti-Poverty Network, told Ecumenical News International: "I hope that the churches will join the network by providing information [on labour laws]."

Hayashi said the Church could assist the poor by helping them to prepare application forms for welfare benefits. His church is located in an area called Kamata where many "net-café refugees" gather. There they can camp out at the cheapest Internet café in Japan for 200 yen, or about 2 US dollars a night.

"I think they will become poorer, but when they have no money, we can store canned food and share it," he said. "We can also use the [labour] law, while at the same time we can seek to change it." The pastor added, "The Church should adapt itself to them as Christ did."

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

Keywords:poverty | Japan | churches
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