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The Down & Out Issue

Moo Kari Makka?

Interviewing the homeless in Osaka.
December 1, 2003, 12:00am

Photos by Momus

“Moo kari makka?” That’s what you say in Osaka, Japan when you meet someone. It means: “How you doing, making money?” Osaka is all about money. If it were a country it would be the world’s ninth richest. The city center is a blaze of illuminated signs, a warren of streets hosting the ‘pink salons’ of the sex industry and endless covered shopping arcades. And it’s here, vying for space with slick, insistent stewards and hostesses, roaring pachinko parlors, and cinemas hosting ultraviolent films like Battle Royale 2, that you’ll find the homeless. They’re busy too. Late at night they’re working, combing the arcades for plastic bottles or cardboard which they’ll hand into recycling centers in exchange for enough cash to feed their pet cats and dogs. Or they’re washing at a communal tap down by the highway that skirts Osaka Zoo, getting ready to sleep in huts of ply board and blue tarpaulin. Every one uses blue tarpaulin. They’d be quite pleasant places to live if it weren’t for the constant traffic noise, the exhaust fumes, and the smell of manure from the nearby zoo. Some of them are gems of home-built folk architecture, focusing even further the Japanese genius for miniaturization and high-density living, finessing humble living materials from homely flowerboxes and recycled plastic sheets branded with Hello Kitty logos. The houseproud Osaka homeless are too busy to talk to VICE Magazine. Here are three short interviews we managed to get. Homeless Man 1: (Trolley loaded high with cardboard, several dogs.) “Interview? No. Maybe later.” Homeless Man 2: (Only two teeth, cat.) “You can interview my cat, but not me!” Homeless Man 3: (Pulling off pants behind pillar in subway.) “You’re wasting my time. What is there not to understand?” What is there not to understand, indeed? Moo kari no makka? MOMUS