Japan’s biggest slum is visible just blocks from bustling restaurants and shops in Osaka, the country’s second-largest city. But it cannot be found on official maps.
Nor did it appear in the recent Osaka Asian Film Festival, after the director of a new movie that is set in the area pulled it, accusing city organizers of censorship.
Osaka officials asked Shingo Ota to remove scenes and lingo that identify the slum, on the grounds that it was insensitive to residents.
“To me, what they were asking was a cover-up attempt to make this place non-existent,” he said in a recent interview.
This place is Kamagasaki, home to day laborers, the jobless and homeless, where one in three are on welfare. About 25,000 people live in this compact area, mostly single men who stay in free shelters or dozens of cheap dorms that charge as little as 800 yen ($8) a night.
The day starts early at the welfare-employment center, where hundreds of people line up for manual labor work, mostly with subcontractors of Japan’s construction giants. Those not picked stroll the backstreets aimlessly, queue for free meals or resort to cheap alcohol. In the evening, the homeless line up at the center to get tickets for the shelters.
“I’m jobless, for months,” said one 52-year-old resident who came to Kamagasaki after losing his home in the 1995 Kobe earthquake. He gambled away his monthly welfare money of 70,000 yen ($700). “Now I’m doomed.”