Friday, October 1, 2010

"Is our work a crime?" Stop Sumida Ward’s ordinance prohibiting taking recyclables! March & Rally on Oct. 3 in Tokyo

The following was translated by Rayna Rusenko from the original Japanese article on the Sanya Welfare Center for Day-Laborer's Association website:

The Sanya Welfare Center for Day-Laborer's Association is a collective made up of homeless people and their allies from Sumida Ward and the Sanya, Sumida River, Tatekawa, and Kinshicho areas.

Recently the Sumida Ward Assembly revised an ordinance on aluminum, paper, and other recyclables (※). In its new form, the ordinance sets a fine of up to 200,000 yen (roughly USD$2,330) for anyone caught carrying recyclables away from a collection point.

The revised ordinance takes effect on October 1, 2010. The Sumida Recyclables Disposal Department has already begun compiling a list of homeless persons collecting aluminum cans and newspapers, while also recording persons on video for identification.

We are concerned by and strongly opposed to this ordinance, which will not only gravely impact the lives of people who survive on the streets, but also shatter the already thin relationship that people on the streets have with society at large.

Collecting disposed items and exchanging them for money is a form of work that is essential to people who have no addresses for resumes. This urban form of work has helped people on the streets earn their bread and butter since Japan’s pre-war era.

Women and the elderly are included among those collecting aluminum cans and recyclables. Also included: people effectively expelled them from modern employment systems by their injuries, illnesses, and disabilities.

Collecting recyclables is their “final shot” at an income. Persons collecting aluminum cans earn roughly 100 yen (approx USD$1.15) per kilo. With any luck, a person who works through the night may be able to collect 10 kilos. Despite the fact that this work is labor-intensive, it is far from lucrative—but it does provide a hard-earned income that one can be proud of.

◆ Is our work a crime?

In an effort to prevent people from carrying away recyclables from collection sites, Sumida Ward is encouraging that “each neighborhood start patrols;" “citizens report offenders;” and “security cameras be installed, where possible.” This work—a sole means of survival—is being portrayed as a “criminal activity” by the local government’s negative campaigning. It goes without saying that the detrimental changes made to this ordinance in fact threaten to increase the degree to which homeless persons are stigmatized and rejected by society.

For some time, homeless persons who have been collecting recyclables have done so while maintaining communications with local residents and establishing both themselves and their work as part of the community. This last weak link to the community is in danger of being severed. Indeed, from the perspective of dominant politics and administrative policies, this appears to be a peripheral concern.

While Sumida Ward paints itself to be a “friendly community” (※2), this actions would take a heavy toll on homeless residents. The Sumida Recyclables Disposal Department has not even tried to formulate a response to their opposition to the new ordinance.

We need more people to raise their voices against this abuse of our community. We wish for nothing more than to be able to continue to make a living.

Please join us and give your support for our rally and march on October 3rd!


- Homeless and ally volunteers
- Sanya Welfare Center for Day-Laborer's Association Activities Committee
- Sanya Band of Labor Dispute

(Recently posted notice. Its heading reads: “Attention: Removing items such as aluminum cans and printed materials is now subject to criminal punishment.”)

(※) The official title of the ordinance is the “Ordinance regarding reduction and disposal of Sumida Ward waste materials (Sumida-ku Haiki-butsu no Genryo Oyobi Shori ni Kan Suru Jorei”

(※2) In reference to the “Sumida friendly community declaration (Sumida Yasashi Machi Sengen)” ************************************************************

An Asakusa march & rally will be held on October 3rd, starting at 3pm. Everyone is welcome to join. Hope to see you there!

Starting point: Matsuchiyama Shoden Park (Ten minutes from Asakusa Station)

◆ If you would like your name or your organization's name added to our list of supporters, please send the following information to us via the email address below.

Your name and/or your organization

Would you like your name to be kept anonymous? (Yes or No)

Your message

Sanya Welfare Center for Day-Laborer's Association
Nihon-Tsutsumi 1-25-11, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81-3-3876-7073/070-5022-2641
Email: san-ya(at)

For more information, please see this recent article (in Japanese).

(Photos: Sanya Welfare Center for Day-Laborers Association

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