A sad tale of a homeless person being punished for taking up space. 

Being homeless is not a crime, but in the eyes of some, it might as well be. Sleeping on benches, begging for change or food, or even just sitting in a public place is enough to get them in trouble with locals, and in one Tokyo woman’s case, it was enough to get her killed.

64-year-old homeless woman Misako Obayashi often spent her nights on the bench of a bus stop in the Hatagaya neighborhood of Shibuya, according to residents of the area, but at five o’clock on the morning of 16 November, she was found lying face-up on the ground beside it. Though she was brought to the hospital upon discovery, she didn’t survive. The cause of death was determined to be traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage from a strong blow to the head.

▼ (Not the bus stop of the incident)

Security footage near the bus stop showed a man bashing her on the head with a plastic bag carrying unknown items, but it wasn’t until five days later that the culprit was arrested. 46-year-old Kazuhito Yoshida, escorted by his mother, confessed to the murder at a nearby police booth at 3 a.m. on 21 November.

Yoshida, who apparently lives nearby and regularly volunteers to help clean up the neighborhood, must have thought it was his duty to drive the homeless woman away from the area. “I thought if I hurt her a little bit, she would leave,” he said. “I never meant for her to die.” He confessed that the bag contained “plastic bottles and other things”, and has since been arrested and charged with manslaughter.

A woman who knew him expressed shock at hearing about the incident. “He was working hard to help out at his family’s liquor shop,” she said. “When his mother got sick he would snuggle up next to her as they walked. He seemed like such a nice person. I can’t believe it.”

Members of the neighborhood, however, described Yoshida as an “incessant complainer”, someone who “seemed to feel a lot of stress at the slightest change of the scenery [such as the installation of a new antenna].” Apparently he was prone to knocking on neighbors’ doors with complaints.

▼ An FNN News video shows security footage of Yoshida walking with his plastic bag.

On the 22, Obayashi’s younger brother visited the site of her death. Apparently, they hadn’t been in contact for 10 years, but he said she had sent him and their mother, who is in a nursing home, a Christmas card last year, asking after their health. “I had no idea she was living on the streets,” said Mr. Obayashi. “I thought she was doing fine. It’s unforgivable that her life was taken so outrageously.”

Obayashi had had only 8 yen (less than 8 U.S. cents) and no identification on her, but she kept a small, business card-sized piece of paper with the contact information of her relatives crammed onto it. Police were able to contact her brother, who lives in Saitama, with the help of this paper.

▼ Many homeless in Tokyo spend the night under train and highway overpasses like this one.

The incident highlights several problems within Japanese society: for one, that the homeless are, at best, forgotten and ignored, and, at worse, outright rejected as people that need help and punished for trying to survive on the streets. The incident also brings back to light the neglect facing many elderly today whose families don’t check on them or keep in touch with them, allowing some to fall into poverty and homelessness, or even to die alone without anyone knowing.

Lastly, as many netizens pointed out, perhaps this incident is a product of Japanese culture’s tendency to value the happiness and convenience of others over themselves, even to the extreme:

“She probably tried to apply for public assistance because she didn’t want to trouble her brother.”
“I really wish we could become a country that offers help to those in need. I don’t know what kind of life this woman had but it’s a real shame.”
“What an awful story.”
“It looks like she tried to handle it on her own, but her situation gradually got worse, and then she really couldn’t ask for help.”
“I think when you go to apply for public assistance, you’re asked if you have anyone who can provide you aid, so I think a lot of people just don’t go because they don’t want to bother their families.”
“It sounds to me like she might’ve lost her job, couldn’t pay rent and lost her home, then couldn’t even pay her phone bills so couldn’t keep in touch. Japan has a really big problem with homelessness.”

It’s unfortunate that Obayashi, who appeared to be a person who cared deeply about her family, had to die such a fearful, lonely death, when her situation–and her murder–could have been entirely prevented with a little bit of kindness and love.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Hachima Kiko, Tokyo Shimbum via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)

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