A Life Of Helping The Homeless In Sanya, An Obliterated Tokyo District

  • Category:Experience
TOKYO - Working tirelessly with her devoted team of passionate locals, Mago Yoshihira has seen some of the hardest sides of Tokyo, but still radiates an aura of effortlessly laid-back warmth and empathy for anyone who enters her orbit.

Matter of fact about the realities of the everyday struggles she witnesses, sure, but she’s far from cynical. If she ever seems frustrated, it’s not because of the local loiterers who leave unwanted gifts of discarded One Cup sake glasses on her hotel doorstep. Her frustration is with the apathy for which so many people, governments included, have for the less fortunate Tokyo locals.

Yoshihira is the main figure behind YUI Associates, a community building project that helps the city’s homeless through awareness, accommodation and social integration initiatives. She’s based out of Kiyokawa in Tokyo’s Taito ward, an area once known as Sanya (山谷).

It was “erased” from the city’s maps 50 odd years ago because of its less than sparkling reputation. As part of YUI, Yoshihira runs a cafe and three hotels, two for travelers and one for those living rough.

Each Monday afternoon Yoshihira and her crew head out on to the streets of Sanya to collect trash, chat with the locals as a way to offer practical support, a warm smile and a sympathetic ear to those who may feel all but forgotten.

We joined the 30th edition of their trash collecting rounds to learn more about Sanya, the reality of Tokyo’s homeless situation and what YUI is doing to help.

Savvy Tokyo: How did you become interested in the world of community development?

Mago Yoshihira: When I was in university, I became interested in community development in disadvantaged countries. In the beginning, I was interested in developing countries, and I wanted to improve my English so I thought the best plan was to do a masters course overseas.


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