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New Year’s Eve with the Shibuya Homeless

SNA (Tokyo) — For seventeen years a private aid group has been feeding the homeless of Shibuya Ward during the winter holiday period when city services are otherwise unavailable. In the early years, about one hundred homeless would show up and participate, but in recent years that number has swelled to about two hundred, according to the organizers.

On this New Year’s Eve, a table was set up where vegetables were sliced in preparation for cooking a large amount of donburi, a traditional Japanese rice bowl. Later in the evening, a second course consisting of soba was waiting to be consumed.

All of the cooking was done communally, with each person pitching in to the best of their ability. Aside from simply feeding the homeless, the event was also a social one in which the people enjoyed smiles, laughs, and conversations with one another on a cold winter night.

For a decade and a half, these events had taken place inside the parks of Shibuya Ward, but beginning with last year the local authorities decided to start harassing the aid group and the homeless who gather around them.

The tactic this year was to close all the parks in Shibuya Ward, thus denying the public space in which they would normally operate. Today, the event was therefore taking place at the bottom of the stairway leading into Shibuya’s Miyashita Park.

Shibuya Ward officials are on holiday and therefore unavailable for comment, but Masatsugu Shimokawa, a professor of Sophia University and one of the aid group’s leaders, did speak to SNA about his reaction.

“I am quite angry,” he stated, “We just want to make sure that no one dies during this cold season. We want to help them to live longer.”

On New Year’s Day, the aid group was planning a protest march in the early afternoon to decry what they describe as the “cruel action of the administration.”

There was considerable concern that the police could intervene at any time and put an end to their activities and to their protest, but they intended to continue and see just how harshly the authorities intended to crack down on them.