In the early morning hours of November 16 last year, a woman in her 60s with 8 yen in her pocket and a few personal belongings died at a bus stop in Hatagaya, Shibuya Ward.
A man in his 40s hit her on the head with a white bag he was carrying. She fell to her death on the spot, and the cause of death was traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage. The man’s inexcusable reason for killing her to eliminate her, “I thought if I made her feel pain, she would go away,” shocked the unresisting street dwellers.
There are still many women like her who live on the streets. Matsumoto Chie, who has been reporting on the socially vulnerable such as those who live in the wild, has been following the reality of these people. A year ago, the new Covid-19
Just one year ago, a woman in her 60s was killed at a bus stop in Shibuya, Tokyo, amid calls for business restraint due to the spread of the new coronavirus. She was barely resting on a bench at the bus stop, where she could not lie down, when she was removed (killed) because she was “in the way.
It is said that the job this woman had just before she started living on the streets was a part-time food tasting job at a department store underground mall. Hiroko (pseudonym, in her 50s), whom I met at the Covid-19 disaster site, was also forced to live on the streets, but her last job was also at a food tasting corner in a department store basement.
“Her last job was also at a food tasting corner in a department store, so we might have met somewhere. It was hard to believe that I was a stranger. It could have happened to me, too.
The first time I met Hiroko, who told me about the Shibuya incident, was at the “Women’s Consultation Meeting by Women for Women” held this summer. It was at a time when women were in danger of losing their temporary jobs, day jobs, and even their homes due to the Covid-19 disaster.
There are many reasons why women are forced to live on the streets, but many of the women I met were running away from violent spouses or parents.
Hiroko, too, was running away from her parents’ violence and started living on her own when she was 30, but her parents found out about the apartment she was moving to.
Suddenly, her mother barged into the apartment and yelled at Hiroko at the door in the middle of the night. From then on, she could not stay there. After she left the apartment, she lived in hiding.
Hiroko became increasingly concerned about the handling of her personal information and became extremely afraid of being called even by her first name. In the meantime, her residence card was revoked ex officio, but she left it in place because it prevented anyone from finding out where she was. In order to escape from my parents, I did not have my residence card reinstated and went through the process of branching out.
Not having a residence card meant that she could not settle down. Hiroko’s life became a weekly apartment, a trunk room, and a dormitory to support her independence.
There was a time when I worked in a factory with a dormitory to make ends meet, but I began to move in and out of a roof over my head and on the street, and I have been living completely on the street for about 13 years now.
He has been living completely on the streets for the past 13 years. Currently, he “wanders” on the streets while using public assistance.
After applying for public assistance, it is common for people to be transferred from the streets to a self-reliance support dormitory or apartment, but Hiroko faced a major barrier before she could get there: her parents. Due to the fear of her parents and family knowing where she is, she has been unable to reinstate her residence card.
For women in particular, the life of being forced to stay in the wild is full of dangers.
If you are a male encampment, most of you set up your “home” in a blue sheet tent and live in parks, riverbeds, or under guards in metropolitan areas. Due to gentrification, this is a scene that is not seen much anymore.
On the other hand, for women who live in the wild, staying in a certain place is dangerous because their whereabouts are known, so they have to keep moving. This is why women carry large bags in their hands or pull carts. They have to carry their personal belongings with them, but they don’t have the money to use lockers or baggage storage at the stations.
Hiroko is no exception to this rule. She pulls a large backpack that makes you think she is going on a multi-day trip on a cart and walks with another bag on top of it. She travels every day with luggage that is far too large for her petite frame.
In 2008, temporary workers who had been laid off due to the global recession gathered at Hibiya Park in Tokyo from all over the world. Hiroko was there, too. Desperate to get off the streets, she asked for help and was introduced to a lodging house, but instead of stabilizing her life, her mental health deteriorated further.
The reason for this was that the accommodation was too filthy for human beings to sleep in.
Hiroko’s cleanliness, which had been “a little cleaner than average,” became so severe that it became an obsession. A psychiatrist diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which she was afraid of being dirty.
After the spread of the Covid-19 infection, he said, “I’m in the worst shape I’ve ever been in. I can’t feel safe unless I disinfect everything I touch. If someone who is not wearing a mask passes by, I spray my whole body with disinfectant. I have to use half a bottle of alcohol to disinfect my head,” Hiroko says.
Most of her luggage is disinfectant goods to alleviate this OCD. Hiroko sanitizes everything with alcohol. When she enters a store, she first disinfects her shopping cart with wet wipes. When she buys discounted bananas or tofu that are about to expire for about 100 yen each, she sprays the receipt with alcohol disinfectant before putting it in her wallet. I also disinfect each item and put them in a bag.
She rarely sits on a chair without disinfecting it. As a result, Hiroko seldom sits in a chair throughout the day, and disinfection is essential before sitting anywhere.
One day, Hiroko was eating a seaweed roll that she had bought at a bargain price on a disinfected park bench covered with newspaper, as usual.
A policeman came and asked Hiroko questions about her duties, saying that a resident of a nearby apartment building had reported her as “creepy.
When he found out that Hiroko was a street person, the policeman grabbed her arm with enough force to cause a blue bruise and threw her off the bench. Hiroko fell to the ground with great force and began to lecture him on how filthy the ground was. The policeman spat, “You’re the one with the germs,” and left.
Another night, when the drunken passengers had left on the last train, she was suddenly roused from her nap. Suddenly, Hiroko was knocked over by a bench with shouts of “This is no place for you.
Hiroko was attacked by a stranger, no different from the woman who died at a bus stop in Shibuya last year.
“Men can smoke on the street, drink alcohol on the street without a mask, and do whatever they want without complaint, but women can do whatever they want without complaint.
“Even though I live on the streets, I frequently disinfect my surroundings, which should contribute to the prevention of Covid-19 infection. I should be grateful, but it’s terrible to be called a ‘biker. No matter what I do, I’m treated like a distraction.”
Hiroko, who understands that her OCD is caused by her distrust of people, is angry.
Hiroko, who is very assertive in her opinions, is a big reader, especially science fiction novels. She likes to read science fiction novels, not because they are fairy tales about virtual worlds, but because they depict the future of modern society.
Perhaps it is because Hiroko is such a person that she thinks deeply about her own future, and she offered to withdraw from the apartment screening process that she had finally reached. This happened just before she was about to move into her new apartment after going through the procedures with the consultant who had helped her in the summer. The reason was, “If I don’t pass the screening for the apartment contract, I will be so depressed that I will never recover.
As I researched on my own, I learned about the three criteria that are said to be the toughest to get an apartment. As a “single woman, disabled, and elderly,” she realized that her chances of passing the screening were extremely low. In a sense, being judged as “unsuitable” for residency may be as miserable as being branded as not meeting the minimum requirements for human life.
In the past, I have been denied by my parents, harassed and excluded by the police, station staff, local residents and cleaners. Although he has no fixed address and is able to use public assistance, it is impossible for him to secure housing while maintaining privacy to protect himself from his violent parents. In the first place, they have no residence permit. The experience of being continuously excluded from politics and institutions must have brought Hiroko to unimaginable depths.
For Hiroko, who was forced to give up the idea of having a roof over her head, this may have been the only way to maintain her self-esteem. The barriers that stand in Hiroko’s way are thick.
Due to the global pandemic, she experienced difficulties that anyone could have experienced as Hiroko. Isn’t it time to rethink and rebuild our society, where people are easily killed just because they are in the way?
Interview and text by： Chie Matsumoto
Journalist. Mainly covers issues related to social justice, such as human rights and labor. Co-author of "White Paper on Mass Media Sexual Harassment" (Bungeishunju), "Understanding Black Companies in Manga" (Godo Shuppan), etc., and co-translator of "Striking China" (Sairyusha), which will be co-translated into "The Power of Change that Moves the World" in January 2021. A Message from the Co-Chairman of Black Lives Matter" (Akashi Shoten).