Photo Friday: One
Comrades in Kitsch

Photo Friday: Public Spaces

Not a great photo, technically, for this Photo Friday.  But the subject reveals much about differences in culture across the globe. 

Like all large cities, Tokyo deals with the homeless.  Homeless sleep under bridges, in vacant lots, in shanty towns, in carboard boxes.  There's little need for them to do this; Japan has a decent social safety net.  But the demons that often live in the heads of the street-dweller demand a place in public.  Perhaps the buzz of people around you tempers your loneliness.

But no matter how much craziness scratches the vinyl of their minds, these homeless people are still Japanese.  A sense of order and cleanliness prevails.  Homeless encampments feature laundry facilities.  A homeless man who lived near us in Toranomon would complain loudly to anyone who dropped a cigarette butt on his patch of pavement. Homelessness is no excuse to abandon etiquette.

This shantytown near Ueno station in 2002 shows a remarkable sense of community.  Local police erected barriers near the tents and cardboard boxes to preserve the residents' privacy—Japanese culture draws a strict line between public space and the privacy of your home.   And notice, you gaijin barbarians, that one always removes one's shoes before entering a Japanese home. 


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