The Big Issue Japan Marks 20 Years of Tackling Homelessness

Jiji Press
Susumu Hamada sells the Big Issue Japan in Osaka City.

OSAKA (Jiji Press) — The Big Issue Japan, a street magazine sold by homeless people as a way to secure income, celebrated its 20th anniversary in September.

The Japanese version of The Big Issue, originally founded in Britain in 1991, was created after Shoji Sano, 81, currently co-chief of its publisher, The Big Issue Japan Ltd., witnessed many homeless people following a series of bankruptcies of banks and securities companies in the late 1990s. He recalls thinking that he felt the need to act fast to help improve the situation.

After discussions with Yoko Mizukoshi, 69, currently another co-chief of the publisher, based in the western Japan city of Osaka, and chief editor of the magazine, Sano decided to launch a project to offer support for homeless people, although it was an area where he had no prior experience.

In September 2002, Mizukoshi flew to Britain to learn more about The Big Issue project, after she happened to stumble upon a copy of the British magazine.

While many initially said that the project in Japan would end in failure, Sano and Mizukoshi managed to publish the first edition of The Big Issue Japan on Sept. 11, 2003.

The Big Issue Japan has survived many challenges during its 20-year journey, including the global financial crisis of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic, while the publisher explored new sales channels such as subscription services.

The magazine is currently priced at ¥450, with the homeless vendors keeping ¥230 as income for every copy sold.

The Big Issue Japan had sold 9.69 million copies as of March this year, with vendors’ total income coming to ¥1,552.72 million.

The magazine has helped 206 people escape from homelessness. Currently, around 100 people sell the magazine in 11 prefectures throughout Japan.

“A major accomplishment we’ve achieved in the 20 years is that we’ve managed to offer a job that people can do straight away,” Sano said.

If there are no homeless people, there will be no longer vendors of the magazine, he said, adding, “I remember saying that our goal was to pull the plug on the publication of The Big Issue.”

He said, “I really wanted to (fold the magazine) after 10 years, but I can’t quit just yet,” he said, adding that, “I’d like to expand our support to cover not only people living on the streets, but also to those who were affected in the employment ice age and single mothers.”

Susumu Hamada, 72, who was selling the magazine on the streets of Osaka’s busy Umeda district in late September, said that he became a vendor after learning about the magazine on a radio show. The Big Issue Japan is a magazine “with an interesting take on things,” he said.

“While I work as a vendor to make a living, I also want to send a message that reading The Big Issue Japan lets you know what’s happening in the world,” Hamada said.