The Forsaken People of Japan’s Largest Slum

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Image: Andrew Houston

What happens when you can’t repay your gambling debt in Kamagasaki

Nestled in the shadow of Osaka’s gleaming high-rises and funky neon lights is a township of grungy alleyways, rusted metal shutters, and old men living in makeshift cardboard huts. This is Kamagasaki, Japan’s largest slum – and a “city within a city”. Once, it was a suburb for laborers catering to the construction boom that accompanied the country’s strong post-war economic growth. These days, the laborers are still there, but the steady work has dried up and the men are getting old.


Image: Andrew Houston

Men wait at the turnstiles of the Nishinari Labor Center, where jobs are scarce.

“The aging inhabitants of Kamagasaki face a grim reality,” says photographer Andrew Houston, who took these eye-opening photographs. “Many feel betrayed by a country their hard work helped build, a country that has forgotten them. Eyesores to government officials concerned with re-election, slums like Kamagasaki have been removed from maps in Japan. Officially, they don’t exist.”

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Image: Andrew Houston

An elderly man sits in a wheelchair.

Day laborers still make up the majority of the population of Kamagasaki (officially renamed Airin-chiku in 1966 but still referred to as Kamagasaki by the locals). It’s estimated that there are 30,000 inhabitants per 2,000-meter radius in the slum. The exact number is unknown, however, because many of the people have no permanent addresses.

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