Part two explores the rise of "karoshi" — or "death by work" — a rising trend among white collar workers due to extreme stress.
Courtesy of Shiho Fukada
In 2008, photographer Shiho Fukada read a story in the New York Times
about a town in Japan that was filled with destitute old men. Having
grown up in a prosperous Japan, she says she couldn't stop thinking
She traveled to the Kamagasaki district of Osaka to
document the collapse of the labor market, including the old and sick
day laborers who had been abandoned by an economy they had given their
That essay sparked a four-part photo series
documenting people who have made hard choices in the wake of Japan's
declining economy. Over the next few years, Fukada sought out people who
were struggling, although they still tried to maintain a brave face.
Part three highlights the rise of "hostesses," young women who are paid to flirt and entertain men, but not for sex.
Courtesy of Shiho Fukada
"[Japanese] people suffer in private, in their homes, so I thought it was a really important story to tell, Fukada says.
lnternet cafe workers — they put on tie, go to work — you couldn't
tell," she says. "The amount of effort people put in is really
heartbreaking to me."
The four parts of Fukada's project
highlight the aging population of Kamagasaki; the rise of white-collar
suicide; the increasing popularity of hostess jobs; and the rise of
24-hour Internet cafes — where people actually live.
[people] are so private, so it was really hard for me to approach them
and to get access to them," she says. "And on top of that, these are
people in extreme conditions who are not necessarily proud of their
Part four delves into the world of people who live in 24-hour Internet cafes because they can't afford rent.
Courtesy of Shiho Fukada
Fukada, who splits her time between China and New York,
temporarily moved back in with her parents in Japan to work on the
project. Her father worked the same job his whole life and is now
comfortably retired. But she says those opportunities are fading in
Japan, making her work deeply personal.
can relate," she says. "I'm a freelance photojournalist. I'm totally
disposable. I could be any one of these people. People think, 'I'm not
going to end up like that.' But now, given the economy, anyone could end
up in this situation."
Fukada's project was funded in part by grants from the Pulitzer Center and the Alicia Patterson Foundation. You can see more of her work on her website.
In Japan, Hope Fades for Disposable Workers
Ko Sasaki for The New York Times
Unemployed men in the Airin district of Osaka, Japan, waited at a labor
center to collect welfare payments. Some of the younger men are able to
find odd jobs.
— With job signs stuck to their vans’ windshields and sliding side
doors left open in expectation, the recruiters were sizing up the
potential hires at Japan’s largest day labor market here recently.
Kazuyasu Ikeda, 64, had good jobs during Japan’s economic boom but now works sporadically.
By 4:30 a.m., thousands of aging day laborers had spilled out of
the neighborhood’s flophouses and homeless shelters, or risen from its
parks and streets, to form a potential work force of mostly graying men.
sign on one blue van, barely legible in the twilight, offered a 15-day
construction job paying $95 a day, minus $33 in room and board. Although
the terms were comparatively decent, the recruiter sitting in a folding
chair in front of the blue van had found only one suitably young
laborer by 5 a.m. Most were above the unwritten cutoff age of 55.
really hard to use the men here because they’ve gotten old,” said the
recruiter, Takuya Nakamae, 55, turning his head toward his prize catch, a
recruit in his 30s. “If you’re this young, everybody wants you and you
get plenty of offers. Just look at how young you are!”
And yet it
was the older men who really knew how to work, he said, adding: “They’re
the ones who worked during Japan’s decades of economic boom, so they
know the ins and outs of every job. It’s just that they don’t have the
Nowadays, few young men gravitate here, the
Airin district of Osaka. Little is being built in Japan’s stagnant
economy, and young day laborers or part-time workers find jobs by
registering their cellphone numbers with temporary employment agencies.
of the older men who remain arrived here to work on the 1970 Expo in
Osaka, which, like the Tokyo Olympics six years earlier, became a symbol
of postwar Japan’s rebirth. Over the decades, they left to work on
bridges, buildings and highways all over the country, performing the
dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in helping build Japan. Some made it
out of here and moved on to steadier jobs and lives.
others are still in Airin, one of the few corners of Japan where stray
dogs lie in the middle of the street alongside drunken men, and Japanese
mobsters, or yakuza, sell drugs openly on street corners and run
gambling dens on certain blocks. After one worker claimed abuse by the
police, scores of people here rioted for five days over the summer,
though old-timers said the disturbances were only a faint echo of the
violent and widespread riots of the 1960s and 1990s.
Many of the
men left in Airin, on average just shy of 60 years old and with no
family ties, are waiting to die here, said Minoru Yamada, who moved here
in 1973, once worked as a day laborer and is now chairman of Kamagasaki
Shien Kiko, a private organization that helps laborers.
time, this was a place where you could remake yourself,” Mr. Yamada
said. “But not anymore. Now it’s become a dumping ground for old men, a
place where waste is disposed of.”
A grim report by the city
government last year said that conditions in Airin were rapidly
worsening: an aging population, rising homelessness, deepening poverty
and increasing cases of tuberculosis and alcoholism. The number of
welfare recipients has grown fivefold in the past decade.
ancient slum, this area was renamed and reshaped into Airin in the 1960s
when the city government cleared it of family dwellings, concentrated
all the city’s day laborers here and invited others from all over Japan
to meet a construction boom. Today, the city estimates that 30,000
people, about a quarter of its peak two decades ago, live in this
153-acre neighborhood, which is less than one-fifth the size of New
York’s Central Park.
The district’s overall population is more
than 85 percent male. But in Airin’s core — an urban valley hemmed in by
wide avenues and an elevated train track — there are almost no women at
During Japan’s economic go-go years, the number of jobs
offered here swelled, peaking at 9,614 a day in 1990. The number has
fallen to about a third of that today and no longer includes jobs in
the kind of large and lucrative construction projects that fueled
Japan’s boom. Still, recruiters show up every morning at the Airin
General Center, the day labor market, saying they need to check over
hires before sending them to a job.
“This is different from
bidding on dead tuna at a fish market auction,” said one recruiter, who
said he shifted to Airin more than two decades ago after working as a
pimp in Tokyo. “Sure, you can recruit on the Internet, but on the
Internet, you can’t make out someone’s character. For example, a guy can
be O.K. if he hasn’t been drinking. But if he has, he may get crazy and
create problems for everybody around him.”
A couple of hours
after the recruiters had left for the day, Tadashi Kato showed up at the
center to put his name down for a job as a night watchman. Mr. Kato,
75, came here in 1957, abandoning forever his home in rural Hokkaido and
family talk of fixing him up with a job at the national railway.
be natural to wonder whether I would have been better off joining the
national railway, but I’ve led a carefree life and have seen things that
people usually can’t,” Mr. Kato said in a guttural voice, explaining
that he had taken photos of past riots here and was looking for a
“successor” to inherit them.
He once lived in a flophouse. But
nowadays, with few jobs coming his way, he sleeps on the streets. He
refused to apply for welfare or enter the city-run homeless shelters,
where each person receives one piece of hardtack bread a night. He would
never, he said, depend on the government.
He was married briefly,
and he said that, unlike many of the men who came here to escape after
accumulating debts or abandoning their families, he long supported his
former wife and their only child, a daughter.
He last saw his daughter, in Tokyo, when his first grandchild was born three decades ago.
feet stink — don’t come here dressed like that,’ ” he said she told
him. “She said I could come if I had some money for her, but not to
bother if I didn’t. Either way, it’s hard being a man.”
He had not seen his daughter since, but he said he knew her address in Tokyo.
I die, I’ll absolutely go to my daughter’s,” Mr. Kato said of his
ashes, adding, “Sometimes, you know, I think if I could go painlessly,
it wouldn’t be that bad not to wake up in the morning.”
It was not
11 a.m. yet, but Airin’s tiny outdoor drinking stalls were already
filling up with customers. The most popular was a five-stool stall that
belonged to Yayoi Onodera, 48, who charged $5 per drink and sold rice
balls. She had earned around $40,000 in profit since moving here from
Tokyo six months ago.
“I never dreamed I’d make so much money,”
Ms. Onodera said, adding that she had struggled in the beginning but was
encouraged by a local yakuza leader who used to stop by every now and
then before he was arrested and imprisoned for drug dealing.
that afternoon, many of the men drifted to Sankaku Park nearby where
they watched sumo wrestlers on a television set atop a pole.
Kazuyasu Ikeda, 64, went straight home to the 49-square-foot room he had
been renting for the past six years for $11 a night. From his
fourth-floor room, where he had a television set, 16 small cactuses and a
small tank filled with guppies, he had a view of a parking lot and,
beyond that, the Hankai train line.
He had just collected his
wages for cutting grass that day and was in high spirits. The wages, of
course, were nothing compared with what he had made during Japan’s
economic boom. Helping to build a highway in Okinawa back then, he said,
he far outearned American marines stationed there.
foreigner’s bar that I used to go to, I was even more popular than the
foreigners,” Mr. Ikeda said, adding that he was such a regular that the
bar kept a bottle of Camus Cognac for him.
He never had children and thus suffered no guilt, he said with a laugh.
as he watched the end of the day’s sumo matches, Mr. Ikeda, a red towel
he had used while working still wrapped around his head, seemed to grow
tired and his mood darkened. The conversation drifted, as it often did
in Airin, to the topic of death.
Mr. Ikeda boasted that he had
never taken a handout, stood in a soup line or stayed in a homeless
shelter. When there were no jobs, he collected aluminum cans. His
“policy” was to rely on no one, he said.
“I’ll hang on for another 10 years,” he said.
the train rattled past as dusk began settling on Airin. The men here,
he said, were like cigarette lighters worth 100 yen, or less than $1.
painful to throw away a Zippo or Dunhill lighter even if it doesn’t
light properly anymore,” he said. “But 100-yen lighters you just throw
away. That’s what we are.”