Photo/IllutrationDebris from flooding covers a public toilet on a riverbed of the Tamagawa river in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on the afternoon of Oct. 15. (Hiroki Endo)

On Oct. 19, one week after Typhoon No. 19 made landfall in Japan, I walked along a riverside area by the Tamagawa river, which runs through Tokyo and flows into Tokyo Bay.

A baseball field there was covered in mud and my shoes sank into it. I came across a large fallen tree that had apparently washed up there.

In this bleak landscape, I saw homeless people in the area working to rebuild their shattered lives.

A 70-year-old man known as “Hige-san” (Mr. beard) had lost his shack, which was flooded with mud. With the help of his friends, he was building a wooden foundation to pitch a tent.

Hige-san had just returned from the home of a friend in Kawasaki where he had taken refuge.

He never considered going to a public evacuation center.

“I wouldn't have been welcomed at such a place,” he said.

He added that he was luckier than many of his peers because he had friends. But, he said, some have none.

We talked about a distressing episode that occurred in Tokyo’s Taito Ward during the ferocious typhoon.

During the typhoon, a homeless man who sought shelter at an elementary school in the ward being used as an evacuation center was refused entry because he could not provide proof he lived in the ward.

A Taito municipal government official turned the man away, saying, “This facility is for ward residents.”

After the official’s action drew harsh criticism, the mayor of the ward apologized.

Perhaps the shelter official was upset or thought that the homeless man’s presence might annoy other evacuees.

But how did the official fail to realize that the man was in a very vulnerable position as he was desperately seeking safety from the raging storm?

Mother Nature, which can be merciless from time to time, has forced us to confront the question of who should be regarded as vulnerable to natural disasters.

Another man living in the riverside area said he had lost most of the clothes he owned.

“But there are people trying to help us by giving us clothes they don’t use. I intend to share them with others (living around here),” he said.

There are apparently some warm hands offering help to vulnerable people just as the cold season is drawing near.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.