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Monday, January 16, 2012

Sapporo Homeless Hired As City Tour Guides

In an effort to curb prejudice toward the homeless in Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido-ken, Japan, the city has hired a number of them to serve as tour guides. Really? Ick... I wouldn't want one of those smelly, urine-stained bums showing me the sights!

"If you will all follow me down this alleyway, I will show you one of the best places in the city to find cardboard to use as a blanket."

Okay... that was what I thought when I first heard about this. But seriously, I think that conceptually this is a fine idea, but reallly... if you are predisposed to not like the homeless, how is having one as a tour guide going to help dispel that prejudice?  

Taking place in Sapporo, a major tourist area (I never saw it) known for its cuisine (dishes rely less on added flavors and more on the natural flavors of the ingredients) and an annual snow festival (The 63rd Sapporo Snow Festival - さっぽろ雪まつり, Sapporo Yuki-matsuri - is on February 6 - 12, 2012) the city has placed five homeless and ex-homeless people at a tourist information booth.

Okay... so these people aren't tour guides per se, but are there to help lost souls find their way around the city - unlike the poor bastards manning the booth who have been screwed over by life.

This booth opened on December 12 of 2011, the brainchild of The Big Issue, a magazine devoted to helping the homeless.

Hirata Nagisa (surname first), a volunteer with the magazine says: "I hope that the information desk will help people discard their prejudice against homeless people and provide homeless people with a social connection."

While the idea is great, and indeed a novel one, the homeless workers actually don’t earn a salary. Along with helping lost individuals, they also try and sell the magazine.

So... no salary... but they do receive a percentage of the profits earned from magazine sales of the ¥300 (Cdn./US ~$3.80) magazine. However, Hirata did add that the 'information kiosk' manned by these people is on a busy underground pathway that is warm and  is thus not affected by the weather - temperatures in the city can dip to well below freezing in the winter.

Wow... that sucks. They get a percentage from magazine sales? How is that not just using the homeless for cheap labor? You don't have to pay anyone a minimum hourly wage - because they are now salesmen.

Okay... I don't know about the homeless in Sapporo, but here in Toronto, I've seen some of these guys pull in anywhere between $40 - $100 a day from panhandling or washing car windows (granted this is not the norm for a homeless person)... but how much are these five homeless and ex-homeless Japanese folks getting hawking subscriptions?

I don't hate the homeless! I hate this magazine for taking advantage of the homeless!

Still, I guess this help desk for Sapporo's lost visitors could be helpful to the homeless. It will give them something to put on their resume.

By the way... I love that the magazine has an English title, and that the information desk has the English word "information" above the smaller Japanese words.

The man working the kiosk looks like a fine individual, and I wish him and the others good luck. 

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph


  1. All I can say is, "????????????" You're right. Something "smells bad" about this... Isn't having these guys work for free like this against some sort of rules (I don't like labor laws) but that's not my question.

  2. Yeah... I thought you would know something about labor laws (Okay... you said you don't 'like' them)... but why not hire these poor people? Give them a job! Okay... give them a job and a salary!

  3. It kind of reminds me of Newt Gingrich saying that the poorer students should work as janitors for their schools, etc.
    However, in saying that- if the homeless are willing to work for that, then all the best to them.