Old age far from gentle for Japan's graying homeless
By Teppei Kasai
TOKYO (Reuters) - Kyoko Machiya should be enjoying life with grandchildren. Instead, the 64-year-old's home is a makeshift structure of boxes covered with blue plastic in a Tokyo park.
Homelessness in Japan is a decades-old issue, yet it has a worrying new twist. A vast majority of the homeless are now aging, a reflection of the overall graying of Japanese society that poses new problems for policy makers.
Machiya, a tiny woman with weathered skin and graying hair, tried a shelter once but eventually moved out.
"It's not their fault, but it's pretty difficult being surrounded by those with severe mental illnesses," Machiya said. "It wasn't a pleasant environment, so I ended up on the streets again."
Machiya's situation is, sadly, far from unusual.
The number of homeless in Japan has fallen sharply in nearly 5 years, to 9,576 in 2012 from 18,564 in 2007, according to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
But those in higher age groups - 55 years old and above - have surged to 73.5 percent in 2012 from 58.8 percent in 2003.
Part of the problem is simple demographics, activists said - like the rest of Japan, the homeless are getting older. Continued...