Osaka Nagai Park's first ever homeless festival was a success for both those with and without a home. Though hardships still exist, the festival brought soldidarity and fun into what will hopefully be a traditional free space for years to come. Read here for more…
Nagai Homeless Fest
A Successful Dignity Fest!
It had taken months for the Nagai Park homeless residents to plan the July 24 and 25th matsuri (festival) event. Being the first of its kind for them, it was a well planned out event organized under the blue tarps of Nagai Park’s homeless squatter community. The community has existed for about 4 years and has been under constant threat by the Osaka government to move further and further away from the park. Currently they occupy the outskirts of the park, but during a tour of the park, I saw barbed wire, fences, and intimidating signs that barred them from most of the park. The “Dairin” matsuri, Big wheel festival, was created to encourage solidarity between both those with and without homes. The desire was to create a space of dignity where people could dance, drink, speak out, share, do sumo, make instruments, eat, and just have fun together as nakama- friends, comrades. With over 100 volunteers and homeless helping to create the event and over 200 participants, most thought of the event as a success.
Being a foreigner interested in the movements in Japan, I have always felt that the one thing that is generally missing from activism here is empowerment and…fun. So when k and I suggested that Nagai Park do what everyone else does in Japan, a matsuri, but make it their own, they took the idea and rolled with it, being an idea that was something they had already been thinking about. Contrary to my knowledge, a homeless matsuri is nothing new to the homeless communities in Osaka as the Kamagasaki area, the heart of the day laborer’s struggle in Japan, has been doing fests for years and Ooigimachi park has been doing it for the past 2 years. While I sensed some division amongst different homeless groups in Osaka, there was support on making this event possible for Nagai Park. And many groups helped to create the event: Nagai Park, Nakama no kai, Kamagasaki patrol, Kamagasaki Elder’s Union, Nishi-nari park homeless support group, Yuai Koubou- the handicapped people’s work warehouse, youth and students, those with DIY sentiments, and more…
I contacted one organizer and good friend, Jill, who has been working with Nagai Park for over 4 years now. While critical of the event, his feeling (and mine as well), was that one of the biggest successes was that there were a lot of youth helping to create this event, something both of us rarely see in activist Japan. The event included music ranged from enka to punk to a samba line around the stage area, making the event way more appealing to youth than the typical “senso hantai!” no war monotone chants. People danced, sang both old and young. And for my girlfriends, and me the sumo ring was one of our highlights as women have always been banned from entering the sumo ring in Japan. (I won once, yata! But then totally lost on the second round.)
To end the event, one of the main organizers got up on stage and made a powerful speech about the struggle of the homeless to the tune of emotional and encouraging drum beats, yips and yells. While getting half of what he said (getting bits and pieces of translation), his voice and the music evoked a strength that left all of us entranced. When the drumming stopped, the samba line began and what a wonderful way to end 2 days of workshops, music, fun, speeches and solidarity. There are 2 more fests planned for August which I encourage all to join and you are all welcome- 8/13, 14, and the 15th at Kamagasaki, this is the largest homeless festival with a long tradition. Contact Kanatsu san- (both English and Japanese ok)- email@example.com and Oogimachi park’s fest will be on 8/22. Contact Jill (both English and Japanese ok)- firstname.lastname@example.org
While being a success in most people’s eyes I spoke to at the event, Jill made some good criticisms, something that will hopefully be changed for next year’s event. One was that there was some division between the homeless themselves and some chose not to join the event due to disagreements. Another was that there was not enough English and Japanese information to explain the history of Nagai Park and their amazing activism and how people can volunteer and get involved. While there was communication between homeless and participants, maybe making a better defined space for questions both in English and in Japanese would have encouraged more dialogue. But, while not perfect, it was really better than what we had imagined. It was great to see people getting together and really creating something for free. We left the park feeling elated, feeling like community and support is really possible in Japan. If you are in Osaka or plan to visit, I recommend you contact Jill and visit Nagai park, Jill or someone can give you a personalized tour of the place and other areas if time- or ask him about volunteering for the Nagai park’s organic garden, night patrol, and soup kitchen. Nagai Park has really has been one of the most remarkable experiences for me in Japan. I thank them for opening my eyes not only to homeless issues here, but in my home country as well. This is not just something about people receiving food and shelter, but it’s about all of us being able to have dignity in our lives, by choosing to live where we want, how we want. It’s about being able to create our own communities and having jobs that support us, not kill us.