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I saw this article talking about impressive Japanese innovations in which having (almost) no homeless people in Tokyo was listed as one of them.

Given the fact that Tokyo is the most populated metropolis in the world (36.9 million people, over 10 million more than #2, Mexico City) I initially expected there to be a lot of homeless people as well. After all, I was born in NYC. I'm familiar with homeless people.

In my many months of wandering around Tokyo at all hours of the day and night, I only recall seeing a single homeless person. I'm not saying that they do not exist, just saying that thanks to the strong principles of the Japanese culture, homelessness is not near the problem there that it is in many other countries.

Reflecting on my experiences in Japan and the brief time I spent in Tokyo, I have to say that for a city that is so densely populated and wealthy, it is quite surprising to see very little homelessness or even people cadging (or begging) on the streets. If you have been to Las Vegas or LA then you'll be twice as impressed.

The article was published around 2013, and the author says that he is familiar with NYC and has wandered around in Tokyo for many months at all hours of the day and night.

My question is whether there are a number of factors that contribute to the seemingly low homelessness rate in Tokyo, and what they might be?

closed as off-topic by Mark Mayo, Dirty-flow, drat, Gayot Fow, JoErNanO Jun 2 '15 at 9:30

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    I can't speak for modern Tokyo, but I have seen cities where the "homelessness" rates improved very suddenly. This is usually about the same time as footpaths get resealed along major transit roads, billboards sprout in front of slum views and new gardens grow in places of major meeting. | Homeless people are easily enough moved to 'other places' if that's wjhat's wanted for show. Whether that is the Tokyo solution I know not. – Russell McMahon Jun 2 '15 at 2:17
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    Keep in mind that your assessment might be affected by cultural differences - eg. Japanese people (even the homeless) are extremely averse to begging of any kind, so that might be a strong contributor to why you don't see that kind of activity. – Greg Hewgill Jun 2 '15 at 2:19
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not travel. – Mark Mayo Jun 2 '15 at 7:01
  • @RussellMcMahon especially in advance of a major sporting event as the Olympics? – Andrew Grimm Jun 2 '15 at 10:32
  • @GregHewgill FWIW - long ago (about 1984! :-) ) (correspondence with Orwell's story nonexistent) in Tokyo, on my first ever visit to an Asian city, I was somewhat surprised by the number of street dwellers that I saw. Now, some dozens of Asian cities later, the same numbers would probably seem moderate. Memory is somewhat dimmer 30+ yewars on, but I saw people fossiking for food in waste bins, sleeping in mid city Tokyo under bridges and people gathering cardboard for recycling in a situation which strongly suggested that they lived where they worked. I do not recall any beggars per se. – Russell McMahon Jun 2 '15 at 11:23
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Excuse my French, but that article's claims are bullshit: there are plenty of homeless in Tokyo.

According to official statistics, there were over 6,000 homeless in Tokyo in 2004, and while the official figure has dropped since to ~1,600, that assessment is disputed: a large part of the drop is just because tents in visible places were banned. There are also people who are effectively homeless, but stay in all-night cafes etc instead of on the streets.

In my many months of wandering around Tokyo at all hours of the day and night, I only recall seeing a single homeless person.

I suspect the writer has never been to a park in Tokyo? You can walk into any larger urban park (Ueno Park in particular is notorious) and see lots of shacks built from blue tarpaulins, and despite the crackdown there are a lot more than there were back in the 1990s.

Update: Also, the stats above are for a very specific category of homeless: 路上生活 rojō-seikatsu, lit. "living on the streets". These are only a small fraction of all homeless: eg. this UK survey reports 14,420 homeless in London (pop. 8m), of whom only 742 were "rough sleepers".

  • Does your answer also hold true when Tokyo is compared to other cities of similar size and population density? – Michael Lai Jun 2 '15 at 3:01
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    There aren't a whole lot of cities of similar size and population density. ;) Also, the article claims that Tokyo has 37m people, but that's for the broader region; Tokyo-to, which the stats above refer to, is "only" 13m. – jpatokal Jun 2 '15 at 5:02
  • Okay, does your answer hold true when Tokyo-to is compared to comparable geographical regions containing populations of comparable demographic distribution then? :D – Michael Lai Jun 2 '15 at 5:05
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    The article is staggering, unbridled, nonsense. Japan is really famous for having MANY, but "SECRET" homeless people -- they very much hide the reality of homeless kids etc. There are any number of (real tear-jerker) movies about this, such as a famous one called "Nobody knows" in English. – Fattie Jun 2 '15 at 8:18
  • i think (but I'm not sure) that there is little/no begging on Tokyo streets (or anywhere in Japan). Indeed, that's part of the well-known phenomenon of Japan having many homeless and economically derelict people, but society keeping it very suppressed, hidden. – Fattie Jun 2 '15 at 8:20

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