Photographs and text by Shannon Higgins

Kamagasaki, is the largest slum in Japan. Located in the south end of downtown Osaka, Kamagasaki is a one square kilometer "city within a city". It is the home to some thirty thousand day labor workers, some three thousand homeless, and close to ninety yakuza (Japanese Mafia) offices. There are almost no social benefits for the people in Kamagasaki, and like the elderly workers that live here, the town is dying.

I started to photograph this town back in 1989. Originally, I thought that by showing the Japanese the truth about this "city", that no "normal" Japanese would enter, I could help the people regain a "normal" life.

It only took me a few weeks to realize that, yes, the people here needed assistance in getting food and shelter when work is low, but no, they didn't necessarily want "change" to destroy their home. Kamagasaki is an odd town with many different people, and each person has a different need. The Osaka city government tries it's best to stay out of affairs in Kamagasaki, and is dreaming, that one day, this town will just disappear from the face of the map. At the same time, most Japanese see the people here as "losers", and do not realize that with the way the economy is going these days, they just might end up in Kamagasaki too.

Today, the main reason for me to continue to photograph this town, is the friendship that has developed between me and of the people that live here. In a way, this documentary is more of a collection of photographs of my new friends in this odd town.


Some facts about Kamagasaki.

Who lives in Kamagasaki?

  1. Many that live in Kamagasaki, have turned their backs to Japan incorporated. They feel that it was their job to "create" the infrastructure for the nation, but not theirs to run it. As long as they can work, they would be happy to stay away from the rest of the world.

  2. Some grew up in poverty, and some found poverty (especially in the last few years, with the low economy), and came to this town to try to work their way out of poverty. Some have succeeded, most have not.

  3. Some came to this town to run away from reality, and some from the law. They have left their families back home (in many cases they are disowned by their family once the family learns of where their father, or son, is), and will never return.

  4. Many have drinking problems, and are alcoholics. Once they find their place in this "safe haven" they find it hard to get out.

  5. And ofcourse their is the share of people that live here, to live off the people that live in this town. The police try their best to stay out of the way of the yakuza, and so it is an easy place for the yakuza to operate out of.

Is Kamagasaki, like most slums in the world?

No, I would not compare this slum to any other slum in the world.

  1. 1.Most of the population in Kamagasaki are male. It is a workers town, and their is no room for women, unless ofcorse, they work in a bar, or sell their pleasures.

  2. 2.The average age of the population has recently hit sixty. And there is a serious need to help the elderly workers that are forced to become homeless, when they lose their ability to work. On an average day, two people will die during the night because of the harsh conditions (when winter hits, the number goes up to 5).

  3. 3.Some 95% of the people that live in this town are educated, and read and write. Most start their day by reading a national newspaper, and will discuss politics and world affairs over morning coffee. If you were to talk to the people here, you would find that most people here would have a deeper knowledge of the Japanese economy, of the world market, and of world affairs, than your average Japanese businessman.

  4. 4.Most homeless in this town are skilled construction workers, and became homeless because of lack of work. Not because or the lack of interest in working. The morning in Kamagasaki starts a five o'clock, when the construction companies come to gather workers for their construction sites. Only the sick and the injured would not be in line looking for jobs.