Japan's Future: Jobless, Homeless ... Hopeless?

The Japanese government has earmarked $19 billion to help boost Japan's labor market, including plans to create roughly 500,000 new jobs and to provide assistance for displaced workers.

Karasawa welcomes the news but worries the government may be slow to respond to a jobless situation that continues to deteriorate. "The way many people have lost their jobs recently was so sudden; it is like being hit by a hurricane or an earthquake," Karasawa said. "And the victims of natural disasters need immediate help for survival and that is exactly what those people need, help needs to come today not tomorrow."

Shoji Sano, who publishes The Big Issue Japan, a magazine sold on streets by homeless people, warns that more displaced workers are likely to join their growing ranks.

"We have not seen those people yet," Sano said. "Some people may be living off their savings and staying in places like Internet cafes or cheap inns. But in the next six months or so, they may run out of money and have no choice but to live on the street."

Takuji Yoshitomi, one of the magazine's sales representatives, stands on a street corner in central Tokyo seven days a week where he sells between 15 to 20 copies a day. "I still sleep in a train station at the end of the day," said Yoshitomi, who hopes to find full-time employment in the future. "But when you look at how the economy has collapsed, I do not know when or if I can find a decent job again. I just hope my sales will not suffer as people start to watch their spending."

Aid workers are not the only ones worrying about the future of Japan's jobless. So is retired policeman Shige, who said there were 244 confirmed suicide deaths at the Tojinbo Cliff where he patrols between 1998 and 2008.

More Than 30,000 Suicides a Year

He stressed the need for a system of nationwide assistance for the newly emerged "refugees" in Japan.

Shige said he and roughly 70 other volunteers guard the area in shifts seven days a week. "I try to take one day off but I am always doing something because people just keep showing up," Shige said.

"There are other places across Japan like Tojinbo that are known to draw people who want to commit suicide. Look at Tojinbo, it is a beautiful place. It should not be known for suicide but for its beauty. People should come here to enjoy the magnificent view of the area, not to kill themselves."

More than 30,000 people have committed suicide in Japan each year for 11 straight years. The Japanese Labor Ministry said that translates to an annual loss of $10 billion for the nation's GDP. "That is a huge loss to our society but the real loss, of course, is the loss of lives," Shige said.

He and his volunteers constantly try to walk up and talk to people at the cliff. "Many of them need someone, just one person, to talk to them, to listen to them," Shige said. "You really could save someone through the simple act of listening. You save a life first and then see what to do with that person.

"Politicians need to stop talking about whether or not or how to save those people. While you sit and ponder, you may be losing another life."

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