by Stefan Chiarantano, Jan 14, 2007 | Destinations: Japan / Tokyo

Over the past two months whenever I find myself in Tokyo, I stay at the Juyoh in Minami-Senju, a ward of Taito-ku. There's a subway nearby and buses that run to Ueno and Tokyo Stations. The hotel where I stay is in walking distance of Asakusa, a tourist spot and area which I'm quite fond of because of its attractions.

The Juyoh is quite affordable and caters to backpackers, budget minded travellers on a fixed budget or budget-minded Japanese businessmen. If offers a no frills Japanese style room, 3 tatamis, for 3200 Yen. There are shared washrooms for men and women, private shower facilities, and for the bravehearted, a Japanese style sento, public bath. There are laundry facilities and a common area on the first floor featuring a small dining area with a micro-wave oven, a lounge area with a TV, vending machines, and free Internet access (a real bonus). It's the bare bones but you can't beat the price.

The Japanese staff are very friendly and accommodating. Many speak excellent English and are quite knowledgeable about Tokyo and its attractions.

One of the staff introduced me to Cafe Colorado, a coffee chain shop, around the corner. It's a family run operation and the family aim to please. They are very friendly and kind. They serve great breakfasts, for example, a freshly individually brewed coffee, a ham sandwich with heapings of ham, a small salad, and a boiled egg costs 450 Yen. They are very welcoming and the place is abuzz with locals. Many have engaged me in basic English conversation.

Minami-Senju, a friend pointed out to me, is Tokyo's ghetto. I was flabbergasted when he told me this news. Come to think of it, he's probably right.

Minami-Senju is home to countless thousands of single, middle-aged and elderly men. It has an abundance of flop houses that cater to their housing needs. It's also home to many homeless men and a few women. On most nights, I've seen quite a few sleeping on the pavement or huddled in a doorway or wandering aimlessly about. You know, their situation is heartbreaking. They are making their way alone in the world. No one gives them a second thought. They have no supports. They've reached rock bottom. No doubt some suffer from mental illness and are in need of medical intervention. Homelessness is a process. It happens to people gradually. No one voluntarily chooses to become homeless. Trauma, abuse, socio-economic factors, disabilities all contribute to making people homeless. Blaming the victim is pointless and serves no purpose.

Many of the abled men, I've learned, hire themselves out as casual labour doing odd jobs at construction sites.

Some of the elderly residents of the area speak English I've discovered. They've engaged me in conversation or asked me for a smoke. They are quite friendly.

The AM/PM convenience store nearby does a brisk business selling inexpensive prepared food for the locals.

Yet, the area shows signs of change. Across from the Juyoh is Coffee Bach, a cafe that serves premium coffee and has the distinction of having provided coffee to the G8 summit that took place in Japan a few years ago. I can attest the coffee is quite good and it's lovely inside. The seats are very comfortable and the walls are lined with fine art.

Should gentrification occur, where will these men go?

If I could, I'd open up a drop in center for the homeless men of the area and provide a laundry/shower service facility. They've had a hard life. Poverty ain't no sin! They haven't shared in Japan's prosperity. Hasn't anyone noticed? These men are in need of some TLC and a place to call their own!

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