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San’ya Grays


Before sunrise each morning, business is already being conducted in San’ya. The daily job auction determines who will work, and who will go hungry over the next 24 hours. One of the members of our group wanted to go to the auction, but since it starts at 5AM, it was hard to muster enough energy to rouse oneself to catch the 04:15 JR train. Instead, we decided to head out at 09:30 with a professor who knew a bit about the area. It started out as a nice sunny day, but the sky got increasingly dark as day went on. By the time we were leaving, a rainstorm was brewing, which struck later when I was at Akihabara.

Walking around San’ya, we first arrived at a free clinic / support center for people without insurance. It was quite awkward being there, as we were just standing around listening to one of the support workers talking while workers sat behind us and chowed down on free food. We were given a very strange warning before we arrived in San’ya: “remember that these are people, and this isn’t a zoo. Be respectful and don’t take their pictures without asking.” It made sense once we got there, as it probably looked like we were rich college students on a trip to the zoo to the workers. Sad, really. I’m glad we went in groups.

After going down a few streets in San’ya, I started to notice that not many bikes were locked up. I asked about this, and found out that even though most bikes are left unlocked, there’s not much of a problem with theft. The crime rate is surprisingly low everywhere in Tokyo, and San’ya is no exception. Remembering New York and the “Bicycle Bermuda,” I must say that it’s quite impressive.

We also passed by a few government-run apartment buildings for welfare recipients. You are required to have an address to collect welfare, so it’s a good thing these apartments exist. There are some apartments for students and those with jobs in other parts of Tokyo in San’ya, but the students and the workers don’t associate with each other. The average age of San’ya residents is approaching 60, so its nice to see some students living there. In 40 years when the current generation has passed, I wonder if San’ya will still be the construction-oriented community it is today. I don’t think so.

Posters promoting the JCP were posted all over San’ya. I didn’t know what the JCP was until someone pointed out to me that it stood for the Japan Communist Party. She was quick to point out that it was a propaganda poster and that it was pretty strategic placement, a movement promoting worker unions in a neighborhood consisting of lots of workers. I agree. I’ve seen the posters all over, including in Okinawa, and even saw a car with megaphones on the sides shouting about joining the party. Hopefully a message that won’t catch on.

Overall, I’m glad that we left San’ya without diving too far into it. I’m sure it was pretty safe, but I’m not sure I’d like to be there alone, knowing what I read in San’ya Blues.