Japan's invisible underclass hits back

UNEMPLOYED workers rioting on the streets against the withdrawal of welfare payments is not the kind of thing normally associated with Japan. But on Thursday and Friday last week up to 1,000 people went on the rampage in a poor district of Osaka, Japan's second largest city, burning bicycles and a car and leaving 13 people injured. Seven arrests were made and 1,500 riot police were on the streets of the Airin district of the city last night to prevent a further outbreak of violence.

The rioters came from the very lowest level of Japanese society - day labourers who live from hand to mouth and whose existence is barely acknowledged in Japan.

Yesterday's newspapers and television news broadcasts largely ignored the riots and an officer at the local police station reacted angrily to inquiries from The Independent on Sunday.

The day labourers are outcasts from a society that stigmatises anyone who strays outside the norm. Some 20,000 live in flophouses and shabby dormitories in Airin, the largest slum in Japan. There are another 8,000 in Tokyo's Sanya district. They are seedy, run-down areas where crime is rife and the misery of unescapable poverty stalks the streets - a very different picture to most of Japan, which is comfortably middle class and relatively crime-free.

Some of the day labourers are criminals on the run or former prisoners who cannot get back into the mainstream of society. Many others belong to the burakumin (hamlet people) underclass, a group of people who are ethnically Japanese but who for centuries have been discriminated against because of their association with 'unclean' work - slaughtering animals, tanning leather and digging graves.

There are some three million burakumin in Japan, with the largest concentration around the Osaka area. Companies hiring new employees and families marrying off sons or daughters routinely use detectives to ensure they are not accepting a burakumin. In the past the burakumin were treated as absolute outcasts and their villages were not even marked on maps. Today they are similarly ignored by the media.

The riots began when the welfare centre in Airin announced on Thursday it would no longer hand out emergency welfare payments to labourers who could not find work. Most of the day labourers are employed in the building industry and queue up from 6 am to get a day's work. The process of recruiting is controlled by the yakuza, gangsters, who act as tough intermediaries between the workers and the building companies.

As Japan's economy is slowing, there are fewer new buildings going up. And because of the shortage of work, employers have begun to reduce wages. A day's work at the height of the economic boom five years ago could have brought in pounds 62. Today the daily wage is often barely half that, and with no official contracts or union protection, the day labourers have little bargaining power.

The local authorities had been making daily payments of pounds 9.50 to tide the workers over lean periods, but on Thursday they announced the funds for these payments had run out. Already living on the edge, the day labourers couldn't take it. A fistfight broke out between some of them and officials in the welfare office, and as news spread more people congregated outside, leading to clashes with the police. 'Day after day, we can't even get enough to eat,' one rioter told a local news organisation.

Two years ago Airin was the scene of five days of rioting after corrupt links between the local police and the yakuza were exposed. At least 186 people were injured, 55 were arrested and several hotels and a train station were burnt out.

Police further aggravated Airin residents when they installed video cameras on the streets, which were linked to the local police station to monitor any signs of unrest.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?