Key Labor Activist

 I was thinking I should try and make some time to translate important articles for understanding problems in Japan, and the activism trying to address them. Then I started coming across English articles with the people that should probably have some international exposure.

 I first heard of Yuasa Makoto when the Article 9 organization had an event here in MIyazaki. (A prefecture with 1% of Japans population in the south east of  the southern island of Kyushu) I wasn’t able to attend the event but an older lady that runs a kid-friendly cultural and educational NPO told me about it. An elementary school student asked literature prize winner Kenzaburo Oe what regular people could do for peace. He said to notice things. It’s hard to translate 注意深い人になってください (Chuui Bukai Hito Ni Natte Kudasai) but I think he was suggesting we should all try to a bit more of a poet, a bit more like Eduardo Galeano with our thinking and feeling. (What was that word everyone thought he created? The combinations of thinking and feeling that he manages with his writing Pensive and Sentiment…) Makoto Yuasa was one of the panelists for that event, along with another person with an NPO that supports young people.  They  have a hotline and e-mail address. They tell young jobless people where ot apply for public assistane,  the Internet cafe refugees (ネットカフェ難民)with 2 yen in their pocket and no idea where their next meal is coming from.

 I stumbled on his name again when English conversation students expressed an interest in the New Year’s Tent City for temporary workers. You can’t help but thinking a lot of people are already in a Great Depression with Hooverville in Tokyo. Yuasa Makoto was the Village Mayor of the Hibiya Hooverville. I guess it could have been named a Koizumi-Son, or Aso-Cho.

   One Friday night I got together to talk with one of the 1017 members of the National Railworkers Union that were illegally fired more than 20 years ago. It was the beginning of the end of a powerful Labor federation and the Socialist Party – that was the point of privatising the railways and breaking the NRU according to later comments by Nakasone – the prime minister at the time. This walking piece of Japanese labor history was talking about how Yuasa Makoto is really good on all night TV. The ruling (LDP) party politicians can’t respond to him. Yuasa left graduate studies in Tokyo University to care for a disabled sibling after the death of his father. They fell into poverty and had trouble feeding themselves. This was the start of his anti-poverty activism. It’s hard to blame the victim with Self-Responsibility (自己責任) with that kind of history.  You can’t really blow him off with "you chose the light hearted lifestyle of a part-time worker in a convenience store" while ignoring all the deregulated manufacturing jobs that populated the tent village over winter vacation..

  With all of this motivation piling up I was hoping to find time to translate his Japanese WIkipedia entry about the five exclusions but their introduced in this article. Another younger activist with interesting views on education is Yoshiharu Shiraishi who was involved in the G8 demonstrations and traces his intellectual roots back to the French enlightenment translator Nakae, Choming and Japanese anarchist Oosugi, Sakae. Shiraishi talks about a guaranteed basic income and free education in a Shyukan Kinyoubi (sponsor-free news weekly) interview. Another important name I see with Yuasa’s is Karin Amamiya. She recently joined Syukan Kinyobi, and was involved in the Hokkaido G8 protests too. She had a series of articles on her trip to Korea in solidarity with the temporary workers there. She’s a writer, formerly of a right wing ‘visual’ band, and easy to recognize with her ‘goth’ outfits.



One typical question I get from reporters is "What kind of people become needy?" I answer that there are quintuple exclusions behind poverty. These exclusions are from: educational process, cooperate welfare, family welfare, public welfare and the person itself.
Nowadays, the average child’s education expense up to university graduation is 23.7 million yen (about US$225,714). Japan is 29th among 30 OECD countries in terms of the public spending on education versus GDP, which means individuals bear most of the expenses. In reality, poor people cannot go to universities.
The high school advancement rate is 98 percent, maintaining a high level for the overall population ratio. However, junior high school graduates account for 55 percent of people living on the street. Among those who live at Internet cafes, 19 percent is junior high school graduates and 22 percent is high school dropouts. It shows that people with low education levels will face overwhelming disadvantages when they start to work. Poverty begins at the exclusion from education.
There is a serious intergenerational chain of poverty behind this. The children who are from needy family become needy. If people are raised in a needy family without higher education, they won’t be able to find a decent job. You can go to a job placement office and check out the job openings for junior high school graduates. These people are also excluded from cooperate welfare.
Not everyone become needy even if they can’t find a good job. The average annual income of job hoppers in Japan is 1.4 million yen (about US$13,333). Even with the monthly income of about 110,000 or 120,000 yen (about US$1,048-1,143), people don’t think they are needy if they live with their parents. Families more likely function as a social safety net in Japanese society.
Otherwise, it would be impossible to pay pension premiums, health insurance and residence tax in addition to living expenses. People can’t seek help at the welfare offices because as I said, public welfare basically does not assist them. This is the exclusion form public welfare.
After the quadruple exclusion, finally people face the exclusion from themselves. For instance, consider suicide. We are seeing abnormal trend in Japan that over 30,000 people committed suicide for nine consecutive years. Out of that, about 30 percent (10,000 people) is said to have committed suicide due to economical reasons. That’s poverty. People choose suicide as an extreme exclusion from themselves when they can’t think that they can try harder and continue to live.
Poor Doesn’t Mean Poverty
Maybe we can say poverty is the state without any "stock." Stock here means something like a barrier that covers people. For example, having money is a financial stock. Having parents, relatives and friends to depend on is a stock in personal relationship. Confidence in ourselves and positive thinking are mental stock. When overall stock is low, people fall into poverty.
People with stock can get by for a while and deal with the problem calmly. Even if they lose a job, they can take time and look for another job that suits them as long as they have some savings. If they have stock in personal relationship, a friend may be able to introduce a job.
The Japanese definition of poverty is those who are below the welfare standard. The average monthly income eligible for public assistance in Japan is 100,000 yen (about US$952). People who are below this level are officially approved as needy. Such standard is necessary, but it only considers a formal indicator, income, and poverty issue is more than just financial income.
Some say "We were all poor before. We worked hard to turn things around." Indeed the income might have been low, but people probably had stock, in other words, families and mutually supporting community. It might have been "poor" but not "poverty."
Since this stock is invisible, few people are aware of the stock they have. It is only natural that successful people especially want to think they worked hard for what they are now.
Measures to Avoid Putting off the Burden to Next Generation
It makes me wonder so much why the Japanese government does not implement any effective measures for poverty issue. I think the elite people who become politicians usually have huge stock and they don’t know the actual situation of poverty. They naively say that "we are making policy measures for people to work hard and escape from poverty," but they don’t realize that reasonable conditions are required for people with quintuple exclusions to "work hard." We should not just press people to work hard before promoting to create the necessary environment.
Let’s stop thinking like we deal with poverty issue because we feel sorry for them. It is the measures necessary for the society to alleviate its own poverty and improve its sustainability.
Current job hoppers and irregular workers are the second-generation of baby boomers who built an asset during the high economic growth era. They have a choice to live on the asset. This is the stock of family and that is why the poverty issue has not been socialized. However, the following generation will see massive number of people in poverty.
I don’t think a country is sustainable if it can’t guarantee the "right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living" as stated in Article 25 of the Japanese Constitution and the right to life. I believe we need to build a society that provides the environment in which most people can at least equally work hard by themselves.
Makoto Yuasa is chief of the secretariat of non-profit organization, Moyai (Independent Life Support Center).

Engaged in rough sleepers and homeless support in 1990’s. He continues to address the poverty issue in modern Japan from the field by pointing out the issue of "Net Cafe Refugees" several years ago and accusing the poverty business on exploiting the needy. He also works on building a network for anti-poverty. Author of Coming of Poverty and Welfare Application Manual for People who are in Real Trouble, etc.


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