From Laborer’s Town to LGBTQ Elderly Support Hub, Exploring the Transformation from Osaka’s Kamagasaki | FRIDAY DIGITAL

From Laborer’s Town to LGBTQ Elderly Support Hub, Exploring the Transformation from Osaka’s Kamagasaki

Nonfiction writer Kota Ishii approaches the reality of a "society of the elderly who are not related to the elderly.

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Airin Labor Public Employment Security Office in Kamagasaki

Do you know that “Kamagasaki (Airing District)” in Nishinari-ku, Osaka City, has become the frontline for caregiving for LGBTQ elderly and employment support for people with disabilities?


Formerly known as an area with many laborers in Japan, the town has become a place where LGBTQ caregivers support elderly LGBTQ individuals and elderly people with disabilities sell craft beer as part of employment support. Let me introduce the reality from the investigative report Unconnected Elderly (by Kotaro Ishii, published by Shio Shuppan) that follows the actual situation of socially disconnected elderly individuals.

When you hear “Kamagasaki,” middle-aged and older people may envision it as a town where day laborers gather. For younger generations, it might be perceived as a chaotic town where homeless people gather.

During the period of high economic growth until the 1970s, Kamagasaki flourished as a doya town where cheap accommodations were concentrated.

At that time in Japan, various development projects were underway due to economic development. Kamagasaki had many labor brokers, and people came here to get day labor or short-term physical labor. At its peak, over 20,000 workers overflowed into the district, which was only about 500 square meters.

The characteristic of these doya towns at that time was the ability to get a job while hiding one’s identity. Therefore, among the workers who gathered in the town, there were quite a few with bad behavior.

Those who were expelled from the yakuza, those who fled from debt collectors, those who had just been released from prison, those addicted to methamphetamine… They spent their daily earnings on gambling, prostitution, alcohol, etc., living literally from day to day.


“They would accept anyone.”


During this time, it’s said that a significant number of LGBTQ individuals were also gathering in Kamagasaki. Masahiro Umeda, who works as a care manager in Kamagasaki, says,

“Both in the past and now, there have been many LGBTQ individuals living in Kamagasaki. LGBTQ individuals who were born and raised in rural areas often left their hometowns, cutting ties with their families. There are various reasons for this, such as being discriminated against locally or being forced into heterosexual marriages by their parents.

Even when such individuals try to live in urban areas away from their hometowns, they still face discrimination or struggle to find a sense of belonging due to difficulties in relationships. So, these people flow into Kamagasaki, a place that accepts anyone.”

One of the people I met during this investigation had a similar story.

A person referred to as “A” grew up as transgender (physically male but identifies as female) in the 1930s, but at that time, it was not allowed to confess such things. Therefore, A was forced by their parents to marry a woman chosen as the successor to a local factory.

For A, pretending to be male and interacting with their wife was extremely difficult above all else. When they finally had a son on their third attempt, A left home with nothing, abandoning everything.


Subsequently, A found their way to Kamagasaki. While working in construction during the day, A chose to live as their true gender, that is, as a woman, at night.

In Kamagasaki, both heterosexual and sexual minority individuals lived together. Heterosexual individuals often engaged in prostitution in the nearby Tobita Shinchi area, while sexual minorities like transgender individuals and gays found a place for interaction in the area called “Shinsekai” nearby. It was there that A lived as a woman.


A spoke as follows:

“In those days, you absolutely couldn’t say that you liked cross-dressing or that you liked men. But here (Kamagasaki), they accepted all kinds of people. There was no discrimination because it was a gathering place for people who had been discriminated against. So, whether a man wore a skirt or two men held hands, nobody said anything. I felt like I was in heaven when I first came here.”

Kamagasaki had become a place for such minorities.

Half a century has passed since then, and these people have also become elderly. Their bodies have weakened due to years of physical labor and unhealthy habits, and they live in cheap accommodations in Kamagasaki or nearby apartments, spending their remaining years on welfare. Some elderly LGBTQ individuals lose their place and end up in this town.

Among these elderly people, there are also many who need care. Masahiro Umeda, the care manager mentioned earlier, is supporting such people.

Umeda openly declares that he is gay and has established the care management office “Nijiiro Kazoku” (Rainbow Family), providing caregiving services for elderly LGBTQ individuals living in Nishinari Ward. He says,

“Just because the users are LGBTQ doesn’t mean the content of care changes. But because I’m someone like them, I think I understand the subtle feelings and relationships that can be built.”


Kamagasaki serves as a model

 Among the elderly gay individuals, there are also HIV-positive individuals. Currently, HIV has become a manageable condition with medication, but this requires regular visits to the hospital and continuous intake of appropriate medication. Additionally, there are quite a few individuals who rely on their same-sex partners for caregiving.


For these elderly individuals, caretakers like Mr. Umeda are invaluable. They can discuss their illnesses and receive understanding about having same-sex partners.


In this sense, there is a high demand for LGBTQ supporters who understand this, especially in Kamagasaki, where LGBTQ people gather. And there are quite a few people who are responding to this need.


“In Kamagasaki, I’m one of the few openly gay caretakers, but there are many nurses and caregivers. There are also companies that employ many such nurses and caregivers. So, I’m trying to connect LGBTQ nurses and caregivers with these elderly individuals as much as possible. I believe this approach leads to a more peaceful retirement.”


There are few areas where a certain number of LGBTQ elderly people live together, receiving specialized welfare. While I’d recommend reading “Muen Roujin” for detailed information about this type of care, Kamagasaki seems to be becoming a model in this regard.


Next, I’d like to explore the employment support and craft beer business of the residents in Kamagasaki. I’ll elaborate on this in the sequel, “Part II: Success Story of Elderly Laborers in Osaka’s Kamagasaki – Craft Beer Sales Triumph!”

Part 2: Elderly Workers in Kamagasaki , Osaka, S ell Craft Beer with Great Success! A True Story of Miracle

  • Interview and text Kota Ishii

    Born in Tokyo in 1977. Nonfiction writer. He has reported and written about culture, history, and medicine in Japan and abroad. His books include "Absolute Poverty," "The Body," "The House of 'Demons'," "43 Killing Intent," "Let's Talk about Real Poverty," "Social Map of Disparity and Division," and "Reporto: Who Kills Japanese Language Ability?

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