Sluggish economy leaves many Japanese in the cold

Mon Feb 1, 2010 6:24am EST
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By Hyun Oh

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - The global economy may be on the mend, but times are still tough for the masses of homeless, jobless people in Tokyo, where the only meal of the day is often a bowl of rice handed out by charities.

Although Japan's export-driven economy is back on track, largely due to rising demand from Asia, the United Nations said its recovery was slower than other countries, and predicted only 0.9 percent growth in 2010 compared to 8.8 percent for China and 2.1 percent for the United States.

This sluggish growth, combined with troubles at giant corporations in the world's second-biggest economy, has made earning a living very difficult for scores of Japanese.

"I see no jobs around. It's a really tough situation," Eizo Tsuruga, a 50-year-old homeless man, told Reuters as he sat among others people eating a bowl of hot rice in the winter night.

A Welfare Ministry survey showed the actual numbers of homeless had fallen to 15,000 in 2009 from 25,000 in 2003.

Homeless people in Japan have traditionally been elderly, social dropouts, but with the economic situation, the demographics have changed to include laid-off workers, both young and old, and university graduates unable to find work.

On a recent Sunday, more than 400 people flocked to a Tokyo park to receive free meals and blankets distributed by local charity Shinjuku Renraku Kai, more than twice the number of people the charity used to see two years ago.

Many had queued for hours to ensure they got some cooked rice, often their only meal for the day.   Continued...