ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Ôyama Shirô. Trans. Edward Fowler. A Man With No Talents: Memoirs of a Tokyo Day Laborer. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 2005.

The author was an unemployed day laborer living in a boarding house (doya) in Tokyo's notorious San'ya district when he wrote this memoir, which won the Kaikô Takeshi Prize. Ôyama is in some respects atypical of the general San'ya population, but in other respects his experiences are not unusual: after making two serious tries at being a shakaijin, Ôyama cut all ties with his family in his mid-thirties and, after a brief stint homeless in Shinjuku and working as a day laborer out of Takadanobaba, moved to San'ya and began living and working there, which existence he sustained until 2003, when, true to his principles, he left San'ya for Shinjuku again and chose to live on the streets, reckoning that not paying for lodging costs would sustain his savings longer.

Ôyama's memoir is fascinating, both for his matter-of-fact explanation of his own misanthropic character and for the light he sheds both on life as a day laborer and on life as a homeless person in Tokyo, which--as is readily apparent from the orderly shantytowns of blue tarps provided by the metropolitan government--is not the same phenomenon as homelessness in the United States, though at bottom the two share certain similarities. Although the translator cautions that Ôyama himself is atypical of the day laborer population and that San'ya is a place that is in some senses beyond the bounds of normal Japanese society, the other thing that struck me in this book was the subtle persistence of social norms even among people who are more or less beyond the pale, documented in agonizing specificity by Ôyama. Many of his attitudes are also terribly familiar, though with his mordant wit Ôyama is as quick to note his own hypocrisies as he is to call out those of others. It's a fascinating look at a life lived--happily, by Ôyama's lights--on the margins.


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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