Since the burst of the economic bubble in the early 1990s, Japan’s former yoseba (day labor ghettos) have transformed into concentrations of homelessness, welfare-subsidized housing, and supportive social services. The focus of these communities has shifted from day labor to support of poor elderly persons facing lonely death and other socially marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities and mental health problems. However, these neighborhoods have also seen a growth of tourism, with many former pay-by-the-day hotels (doya) now catering to foreign and domestic budget travelers. Local government has played a role in these changes, facilitating redevelopment to increase revenues from tourism and young, working families. But how are residents, especially the poor and vulnerable to displacement, experiencing this rapidly advancing gentrification? Do these neighborhoods retain their function as neighborhoods of refuge (kakikomi chi’iki), buffering residents from the most extreme forms of urban marginality? I will explore these questions by drawing on ethnographic research conducted in Tokyo’s San’ya and Osaka’s Kamagasaki over a 25-year period.
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