Pandemic Poverty in Japan

This is so sad… And it’s all true.
A lot of people have shunned the full-time salary work system for a number of reasons. Heirarchical maniacs, low pay and high hours, and having to stay at work till late. I read a few years ago that the number of part-time workers had grown to record highs. This is the group being referred to that is moving from middle class to poor and poor to extremely poor. There are several bad systemic problems exacerbated by the pandemic. Culturally engrained chauvinism, a lack of privacy within the the family regarding welfare checks resulting in a loss of face, the basic issue of pride, a lack of generosity among people in general because there is no ‘kata’ for it, and also a systemic breakdown because there is no ‘kata.’

I would like to discuss with a cultural comparison the lack of generosity. In the us, winter in the holiday season, everywhere you go you will see 55 gallon bins and huge boxes at store exits. There, it is encouraged to put a few purchases that you made specifically for that box. Those purchases will go directly to people who are poor. The salvation army guy with the bell stands at almost every shopping center ringing his bell and waiting for people to make donations. I remember sharing the spirit of Christmas and showing pictures, including that of a mountain of toys in Seattle that were being prepared for distribution to the poor and the Japanese students were so surprised because they had never heard about anything like this. Admittedly the activities during Christmas have their roots in Christianity. That being said, I don’t hear about it happening in Europe. But in Europe they have other ways of supporting the poor.

Anyway, there’s nothing like that here in Japan. There was a Catholic church where we got food because we had none when I first arrived back here after getting married years ago. But there’s no systemic support system for people who are in poverty and need immediate assistance like food stamps.

To exacerbate the problem the government and businesses consider waste an issue of literally garbage, not something that might have potential, but something that needs to be gotten rid of so that they can sell more products and raise the economy. There’s no concept of circulation of waste products after they become waste.

Businesses are selfishly militant about it. All of the waste bins are locked and food waste from places like 7-Eleven is not available to the poor. In the US if you go to the back of 7-Eleven or to the back of supermarkets and food factories, you can go dumpster diving and get food if you need it. But here that isn’t possible because it’s all locked down literally with padlocks. How precious is their waste??

Not only that, in the UK and in the US, for a few years now there have been organizations that take a lot of that wasted food that is canned and dried or surplus, and share it with people who are in need or people who want it. This is to prevent food waste. However in Japan, that doesn’t exist. I think that’s super selfish and a big problem. Markets should make food available to people who need it, and there should be an organization or 10 dedicated to distributing this surplus of wasted goods. About 10 years ago I remember talking to people about this issue, and being responded to with the attitude of “Why would we do that? No one does it here.” Well yes, no one does that here, but we can start!

In addition, for a company that for a country that prides itself in its recycling program, there’s a huge problem with reuse versus recycling. There is no adequate concept of reuse. First of all these so-called recycle shops and thrift shops don’t give you more than a few cents for items that are worth a lot more and there’s no concept of consignment. That reduces the desire in people to take things to the thrift shops. It also explains the recent boom in apps like Jmty, Mercari, and Yahoo auction.

But because it’s simple, most people take their things (that are actually useful and someone else would really appreciate) to the corner for the garbage man instead. The city takes it and changes it into something else or destroys it. This requires energy and is really wasteful.

The process goes like this. When you put your garbage on the corner, there’s no way for other people to take it. It’s considered thievery. The city comes and takes it and does what they want with it, destroys it, but that isn’t really recycling, especially locally. It doesn’t help the local people. I think that the system needs to change in that way as well. If there is a large number of people going into poverty, and a population living off of less than ¥160,000 a month ($1,600), there needs to be a concept of social support that goes beyond money and is centered around local needs.

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