Japan's jobless in city park tent village move to government building

Associated Press | January 3, 2009
By Yuri Kageyama

TOKYO (AP) A tent village set up in a Tokyo park for the country's growing number of jobless filled up so fast that it was moved Saturday to a government building to accommodate the overflow.

The government offered a ministry hall late Friday, responding to a request from volunteers, to house more than 250 unemployed and homeless people after the first comers quickly filled the tents, according to the shelter's Japanese-language Web site.

The homeless can stay in the building through Monday, and job counseling and other efforts are under way to place the people in other locations, it said.

The tent village that volunteers and unions opened on New Year's Eve highlights the serious social costs of the global recession for the world's second largest economy.

The government estimates 85,000 part-time workers will lose their jobs between October 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 after the U.S. financial crisis.

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

Japanese Communist Party Executive Committee Chair 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 programs for the jobless are still limited.

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

Shigeru Kobayashi, 65, who has been unemployed 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 heart."

Tamotsu Chiba, 55, a theater 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.