I was walking a colleague back to her hotel after a wonderful dinner with her, when I saw a homeless man. He was lying on the street, shivering, despite it being a summer’s day. There was a chill in the air, a slight breeze I found comforting, but it must have been biting to someone who had been out the entire day without a jacket or a blanket. I’ve seen a lot of homeless people in Tokyo, mostly men, and they somehow always looked, well, pretty comfortable. They were always near a cart which had their possessions, which was neatly covered with a plastic blue tarp in the day. At night, I saw many at Shinjuku Station. Some had befriended others, and congregated in groups.
This homeless man seemed different, because he literally had nothing. I didn’t say or do anything as I walked my colleague back, but as I dropped her off at the hotel, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I remembered seeing his feet, black with dirt. I didn’t see any shoes.
I looked for a nearby supermarket, and found one called Maruetsu Petit. I wanted to buy him a blanket, or at least slippers, but it turned out to be a food supermarket and didn’t carry any kind of bedding. I bought a few things, some green teas, packaged steam cakes, instant noodles, a katsudon sandwich and some biscuits. I put in a jar of wet wipes in case he wanted a way to clean himself, but found himself unable to if he was constantly being chased from public areas.
I don’t know anything about homeless people, or how to deal with them, or what to do. What more, I don’t know anything about Japanese homeless people, or the social norms and cultures. One of my colleagues who always drops off food to homeless people, told me she usually just puts it next to them when they’re sleeping.
So I headed back, armed with my two bags of groceries. He was still there, no longer shivering, one arm flung over his head to block out the world. Upon closer inspection, I saw how long and matted his hair was. He looked like the kind of person your parents would tell you to stay away from. I contemplated poking him awake, maybe saying, ‘Sumimasen’, and handing him the things, but I stopped because I wouldn’t know how to say anything else in Japanese, given my crappy language. Also, I suppose I have to admit I was afraid. I didn’t know how to deal. I’d never been in that situation before.
I put the two bags of groceries by his feet, and left.
I thought I would feel happy, being able to help someone, but instead it had the reverse effect. So I had bought a few groceries and given it to someone, but this was a one off. I wondered if he would see it. I wondered if he would think it was rubbish and ignore it. But then I wondered, if he’s homeless, does this mean he goes through rubbish? Maybe I’d given him a meal or two, but that was it.
Sometimes I come home from a long, hard day at work and I think, oh, I’m so stressed. And I get home, and the house is a mess, and I’m angry that I have to spend my time cleaning it, instead of lazing around and watching TV. How selfish, how spoilt of me! How tiny and inconsequential my problems are, in comparison to a man who is shivering on a summer’s day, sleeping on the road by a park.
Perspective is important. You get lost in your own mind, convinced you’re in the right, that others are in the wrong, that the world could be so much better if only things went your way. And you forget, you take for granted, the fact that you’re actually just damn lucky. You never have to think about where your next meal is coming from. You never have to think about the seasons and how it will affect you because you’re not sleeping by a park.
I want to do more, but I don’t know how.
(Picture above is for illustration only)
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