I was out looking for the luxurious hotel where Lost in Translation was shot. I wanted to re create that scene in the panoramic bar with me staring over a beer into the midnight sky, staring into space. Outer ‘Space’.
This is my Japan. I said to a friend the other week despairingly, “Being in Japan is like living on the moon. Japan is my new prison”. We walked amidst the luxurious hotels that towered above us, but I was still moaning, “I hate Japan”. I declared to my patient Japanese friend.
In the distance I saw a queue of homeless people; I mean hundreds of them standing in lines of three shamelessly outside The Crown Plaza Hyatt Hotel. I had to go look closer. Bowls of rice were being handed out at one of Japans many soup kitchens. I watched the faces of the poor old men and women who come begging for food. None of them drunk, all of them dignified and grateful to the 20 odd volunteers who were serving up the bowls of rice.
Each line of three people would emerge take a bowl of rice and bow thanking the volunteers. They would move away and eat as the next three dark dirty faces emerge. It was Oliver Twist in Japan. I felt sad, sad for these people and the country that they’ve all worked so hard to build, a country which after economic recession provided no safety net for them as they fell from grace and onto the streets. Many of them lost their jobs after the economic crash in the early 1990’s. They rely on day-work for £35 a day if they are lucky.
Later I traveled around Shinjuku Park visiting the many makeshift homes with the volunteers. Tokyo city council is finding apartments for the homeless now. It is officially estimated that there are 25,000 of them in Japan, although the real figure is expected to be twice that. Many of the homeless feel free of the pressure of being in the rat race. Some described their life in tents in parks as ‘free’. Free is my favourite word in Japan. I think about it everyday as I watch this machine-like society plough ahead; where to? No one really knows or seemingly stops to think.
Later I find myself in a panoramic bar having a beer and a plate of chips. I am lost in my translation staring into the ‘space’ that is my new prison, that is my Japan. From the panoramic window I notice the empty spot where the soup kitchen and hundreds of homeless once were. Now it is vacant, they too have all disappeared into space.