Cameras give Tokyo day workers the chance to express themselves and connect with people

Cherry blossoms at night, near what was once the Sanya Ditch in Tokyo’s Taito district, taken by Hideaki on April 2, 2017.



The moon seen from a room in a hostel in the Taito district of Tokyo, taken by Tokio on January 14, 2017.



A cat living in Sanya, in the Taito district of Tokyo, taken by Misao on August 25, 2016.



Project participants take photos with their digital cameras in a changing shopping arcade in February 2021 (Mainichi / Yuki Miyatake)

TOKYO – People living in cheap accommodation in Sanya, Tokyo, an area where many day laborers in the Japanese capital live, would like others to understand the place better. And so for more than five years, many of them have continued to take pictures of the daily life of their neighborhood to share them within the framework of the Sanya Art Project.

Currently, seven people who receive assistance in the form of free medical care, consultations and hot meals from the non-profit organization Sanyukai, based in the Taito district of Tokyo, and live in inexpensive hostels or have lived in the past. in the street participate in the project.

Masaru Goto, 54, a staff member and photographer at Sanyukai, proposed the project, believing that people who have difficulty expressing themselves while speaking or writing might find it easier to do so through photography, and the project was launched in the fall of 2015. In 2018, the participants organized a photo exhibition inside Ueno station. Goto also reported on their activities at the International Summit and Festival of the Arts and the Homeless in Manchester, Britain, the same year.

Sanyukai provides project participants with digital cameras, but they are not required to take photos. The rule of thumb is that everyone takes pictures when they want to. Once a month, the group meets at Sanyukai’s office, where they show off their work and provide feedback to each other. Past subjects of their photography showcase the individuality of each photographer, and have included a TV screen, friends and cats living in Sanya, and the moon on a snowy night as seen from a hostel.

Misao, 67, who participates in the project, lived on the streets near the Akihabara and Kanda districts of Tokyo. After he started receiving public assistance and living in a hostel in Sanya, he learned of Sanyukai’s existence and was invited to join their activities. Prior to his involvement in the art project, Misao had never owned a camera and at first he didn’t know what to photograph. But due to his experience of sleeping on the streets with stray cats as if they were hot water bottles, his gaze and lens naturally turned to the cats he encountered in town. From there he shot other things he loves like trains and railroad bridges. In Sanya, old houses are demolished, replaced by an increasing number of new buildings, including high-rise apartments. Said Misao, “I want to record the changing landscape of Sanya.”

Sixty-nine-year-old Masaharu, who has lived in Sanya since the late 1990s, is another person feeling the changes taking hold of Sanya. In the 90s, as many as 400-500 people applied for a one-day job in cleaning or construction, and it was common not to be selected. But today, due to aging residents and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, around 40 to 50 people are showing up for a single job, and Masaharu says he finds that a bit sad.

According to a Sanyukai staff member, in recent years, the number of inexpensive hotels for backpackers from foreign countries has increased. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, no hiker can be found. The cafeteria that Sanyukai operated to provide free lunches has been closed to prevent the spread of the virus, and Sanya residents are less likely to see each other in person.

Due to the two states of emergency declared so far for Tokyo, the number of photos that project participants bring to their meetings has declined.

“Photography is not just about taking the photo, but sharing your photos with others helps build relationships,” Goto said. “For the men who live in Sanya, connecting with other people is a challenge, and it’s something we want to encourage.”

Even now, they hold their monthly meetings. “The photographs are visually succinct and serve as a gateway to people’s interests. It would be great if, through these photographs of men, people were interested in the current state of Sanya and the social problems of Japan. “Goto added.

(Japanese original by Yuki Miyatake, Photo Group)


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John McTaggart

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