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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015