A Cold Night in San’ya

Post a Comment » Written on January 21st, 2010     
Filed under: missions
San’ya is the city that no longer exists. During the Edo period (17th-19th cent.) this area was known as Fujiwara, the red-light district. Later came the name San’ya which means mountain valley, for there used to be a mountain (actually more of a hill) here but it was moved into the bay by the bucket load in Japan’s, and one of the world’s earliest land reclamation projects.

After WWII the San’ya district became known as a center for day laborers as Japan’s economy surged forward in a massive rebuilding mode. Lots of low cost housing was made available and every morning there would be long lines of men hoping to find work for the day. Evenings saw the neighborhood transform into something of a camp atmosphere, with plenty of bonfires andĀ impromptuĀ gatherings amidst the mix of low income housing, hand made shacks and even tents.

In the 1960s people who lived and owned businesses in San’ya complained to the government about the “bad” reputation their community had and pushed for a name change. Eventually the name “San’ya” was completely erased from the map and the area was split up into 2 or 3 separate areas with different names. But obviously that didn’t really change much of anything that mattered.

By the mid-1980s Japan’s economy began to slow down and the first to be affected were those at the bottom of the pile, in other words the residents of San’ya and similar communities in other major cities. Hiring of day laborers is almost a thing of the past in Japan, and even when it does happen it is likely to be thru a temp agency with everything handled online. Subsequently San’ya has degenerated from a lively, busy working class neighborhood to the largest “congregation” of homeless men in all of Japan.

Numerous organizations, mostly with some church affiliation, have ministered to the low income and no income residents of San’ya over the years. On the 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month the “San’ya Yomawari no Kai” gathers with 10-20 volunteers and distributes donated clothing, personal items, and lots and lots of rice balls to people living on the streets. The greatest concentration of needy folks can be found on one particular street that is a shopping arcade, lined with various stores and shops that close their shutters by 6PM. The entire 3-4 blocks is covered with a roof, offering a bit of protection for the homeless. People sleep on the ground with whatever protection they can find, including lots of cardboard, plastic sheets and as many blankets as can be had. Anywhere from 100 to 300 men are often there waiting for whatever we might have for them.

The second area this group visits is a local park where anywhere from 20-30 tents and lean-to shacks provide shelter for the homeless. These residents are more exposed to the elements but also don’t have to move all their belongings every day.

Last night was really cold. Numbers on the streets were down. But I saw warmth in the smiles and kind words of the many men who thankfully received what little we had to offer.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen (From: The Divine Hours)

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