Homeless removed from Japanese park

Police officers standing guard next to the makeshift houses of the homeless at Miyashita Park.
Police officers standing guard next to the makeshift houses of the homeless at Miyashita Park. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Just a short walk away from Tokyo's bustling Shibuya district is the long and narrow Miyashita Park which dozens of homeless people call home.

For years, they have resisted efforts by the local authorities to remake the park which has turned into a shanty town for the homeless.

The local authorities would like to see Miyashita Park get a new, gleaming facelift in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, reported Japan Times.

Since Tokyo was picked in 2013 to host the Olympics, major property firms have been accelerating development projects in the capital, causing a surge in real estate values and even prompting concerns about a possible economic bubble. Plans to build four new skyscrapers close to Shibuya station and Miyashita Park have already been approved.

But before construction can begin, the authorities need to clear an area that has been occupied by the homeless for the past decade.

On Monday morning, construction workers and police erected fences in and around the park, reported Reuters. By midday on Monday, activists had gathered in the area to protest against the action.

"The problem is that homeless people were still stranded inside," said Professor Kiyoshi Hasegawa of Tokyo Metropolitan University, who researches disputes involving homeless communities.

An activist named Ogawa said by phone from inside the park that the authorities had begun clearing the park and three people were removed.

A police officer on the scene declined to comment. The Shibuya ward office also did not comment when contacted by Reuters.

Last month, Mr Kazuhiro Okuno, the head of urban development for Shibuya, told Reuters public housing had been offered to those affected by the construction.

There were an estimated 6,235 homeless people in Japan last year, according to a report by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

Almost a quarter of those live in parks in metropolitan areas, the report said.

According to Nojiren, a volunteer homeless-support group that runs a soup kitchen, most of the homeless in Shibuya gather in public parks - and Miyashita Park is their most important hub.

Since Nojiren began its operations in 1998, the group says it has seen a decline in the number of homeless people living in the park from around 100 to perhaps a couple of dozen, reported Japan Times.

Correction note: An earlier version of this story has the headline "Homeless cleared out for Tokyo Olympics". The headline should read "Homeless removed from Japanese park". The eviction is not related to the Tokyo 2020 Games. We are sorry for the error.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2017, with the headline Homeless removed from Japanese park. Subscribe