Jobless flood ‘tent village’

A New Year shelter for Japan’s growing number of jobless had to move from a park into a government building yesterday, after more people than expected flocked to the makeshift ‘tent village’.

The shelter – which was made up of 50 tents – was set up by volunteers and labour unions on New Year’s Eve to offer free food and shelter for homeless people, including laid-off temporary workers who were forced to leave lodging provided by their employers.

The ‘village’ was located at Tokyo’s Hibiya Park, which is in front of the Imperial Hotel, one of Japan’s most luxurious hotels.

But the organisers had to seek the government’s help after more than 300 people flocked to the shelter which could accommodate at most 250 people, said Japanese media.

The government late on Friday decided to allow the homeless to move to a ministry hall where they could stay until tomorrow. Job counselling and other efforts are also under way to place the homeless in other locations.

The tent village highlights the serious social costs of the global recession for the world’s second largest economy.

The government estimates that 85,000 part-time workers have lost or will lose their jobs between now and March. Another 3,300 permanent employees are expected to become jobless over the same period.

Temporary workers have been the first to be fired in the latest wave of cutbacks as Japan’s exports and company investments crashed amid the global financial crisis.

Temporary jobs at manufacturing were illegal before 2004, but today, top companies, including Toyota Motor and Canon, routinely rely on temporary staffing to adjust production to gyrating overseas demand.

Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii, who visited the village, said the government needs to do more to help the unemployed.

‘It is unforgivable that Japan’s major companies have thrown so many workers out on the streets at the end of the year,’ he said.

For decades, Japan promised lifetime employment at major companies, and government welfare programmes for the jobless are still limited.

The tent village has also drawn some who have been needy for years.

Mr Shigeru Kobayashi, 65, who has been unemployed for four years, lives in the park.

‘People talked about a recovery, but it never got good anyway,’ he said with a grin. ‘I’m unemployed. All I have is a heart.’

Mr Tamotsu Chiba, 55, a theatre producer and volunteer at the tent village, said he found the energy of the volunteers encouraging.

‘There are so many different kinds of people here. This has given me a feeling of hope about Japan,’ he said.