[Hpn] Big Issue homeless paper is a hit in Japan

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Wed, 10 Dec 2003 18:27:31 -0500


December 11, 2003

Magazine sold by homeless spreads

By HIROSHI MATSUBARA
Staff writer

An Osaka-based magazine that helps homeless people earn money by selling the
publication on the street is spreading to other cities.

Tsuguo Okawa, 63, who sold a record 206 copies in one day of the Big Issue
Japan magazine in Osaka, gives tips to fellow homeless people in Tokyo.
Shoji Sano, 61, who publishes Big Issue Japan, said citizens' groups in
Sapporo, Nagoya and Kitakyushu have contacted him about introducing the
magazine in their areas.
"Inquiries coming from other cities are very encouraging," Sano said. "The
homeless problem is a labor problem, in essence, and we believe a
private-sector effort to create jobs is the only way to solve the problem."
Last week, homeless vendors started selling Big Issue Japan on the streets
in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.
"I hope the nationwide success of the magazine will encourage more people to
start businesses to support homeless people," he said.
In the Kansai region, the first two editions sold more than 40,000 copies
each. The third edition of the 32-page color magazine recently hit the
streets.
Homeless people registered as vendors earn 110 yen for each 220 yen copy
sold.
Big Issue was first launched as a monthly magazine in London in 1991 to
enable the homeless to earn an income and regain their self-esteem. It
became a weekly publication there in 1993.
Sano and other activists in Osaka started up Big Issue Japan after the
massive success of its British namesake. Japan was the 25th country to
launch a version of the magazine, 26 million copies of which are sold yearly
worldwide.
The magazine covers a wide range of topics and interviews, such as with
musicians R.E.M. and Bjork, and reports on social problems in Japan,
including the resurgence of HIV and the tough job market for young people.
The magazine exceeded the break-even mark of 40,000 copies for each of its
first two issues and turned a profit, prompting the operators to consider
semimonthly press runs beginning early next year.
They hope it will eventually become a weekly, like its predecessors
overseas.
More than 130 people are registered vendors, selling an average of 32 copies
a day in Osaka. Sano said the average of 3,500 yen they make on a daily
basis allows them to have three meals a day and to sleep at inns for day
laborers.
On Monday, 10 homeless people joined a group of vendors in the Ueno district
of Tokyo. Tokyo has 37 registered vendors working outside JR Shinjuku,
Ikebukuro and Ueno stations.
Each vendor in Tokyo sells an average of 40 copies a day. Sano said this is
the minimum required to ensure they can have a decent meal and a place to
stay, given the high cost of living in the capital.
Masahiko Makita, 61, began hawking the magazine in front of Ueno Station on
Dec. 4 and sells more than 50 a day on average. Station officials and local
shopkeepers have told him to move several times.
"At first, it was impossible for me to look at the faces of (prospective)
customers, let alone sell (the magazine) to them," he said. "But after
selling many copies, I started to enjoy standing there, feeling I was a part
of something larger."

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