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TOKYO — “Big Issue! A magazine to support the homeless,” a small-built Japanese man shouts as he holds up magazines spread like a fan so high that he’s almost on his tiptoes. “Big Issue on sale.” He mixes among people handing out advertisements and bags of tissues in a crowded Tokyo street corner.

The man is homeless.

Big Issue Japan aims to create jobs for the homeless in Japan, thereby allowing them to become financially independent by giving them the opportunity to make a profit by selling magazines.

Passersby lift their eyes to the man and his product. One hands over 200 yen for an issue.

“The content is satisfying for the price,” the patron said. About a dozen people bought the magazines in half an hour.

Since the economy slumped in Japan, the number of homeless has been rising. Only last July, the Japanese government passed a law to help homeless people become financially independent. It is said that homeless people exist in every prefecture in Japan. In Osaka, a city of 2,626,980 residents, 6,603 are homeless; Tokyo’s 8,345,183 population includes 5,927 homeless.

Big Issue Japan debuted last September in Osaka — the city with the largest homeless population. It’s an opinion magazine geared toward young people. Topics range from rock band R.E.M., to the rising population of young part-timers in Japan, to sweat shops in China. Most articles are translations of England’s Big Issue articles, but some are written by Japanese freelancers.

Big Issue started in London in 1991 as a street magazine to give homeless people the opportunity to earn money. It has blossomed into a successful weekly with a circulation of about 250,000 published in 25 countries.

As a longtime researcher of regional and urban problems, Shoji Sano, managing director of The Big Issue Japan, believes it is the private sector’s responsibility to help. He started a nonprofit organization, which brought Big Issue to Japan.

The homeless vendors are given 10 copies to sell. After that, they must purchase each magazine for 90 yen and sell them for 200 yen.

Any homeless person is eligible as long as they register and agree to the vendor code of conduct. The code dictates that each vendor carries an ID card and does not sell while under the influence of alcohol or substances. They are also not allowed to accept money or gifts or be in the way of pedestrians or other vendors.

At first, many were hesitant and pessimistic about selling the magazines.

Vendor Tsugio Okawa, 63, was one of those. He lost his job as a soba noodle chef in 2001 and was spending his third month living in a park in Osaka when he was given an advertisement for Big Issue. “I was grasping at straws. I wanted to work,” Okawa said.

The day before Big Issue’s debut, Okawa found it was difficult just to give away 100 fliers notifying the magazine’s launch. “I thought, ‘how am I supposed to sell them for 200 yen when it is hard to give out 100 fliers?’” Okawa said. But after selling 10 magazines on his first day and developing a selling technique, he became one of the top vendors, selling a record 206 on his best day.

Currently, there are about 250 vendors registered in Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto. The magazine reached its goal of selling almost all 50,000 issues printed of its first edition. About 45,000 of the second issues were sold and 73,000 of the third issues were sold after adding the Tokyo market.

“There are days when I stand for 10 hours straight,” Okawa said. But to fulfill his dream of owning a small soba restaurant, he said he would continue. “I feel reborn. Customers say I look lively.”

The Big Issue Japan organization hopes to sell the magazine in Hokkaido, Kita Kyushu, Sapporo, Nagoya and Hiroshima by the end of the year.

Sano said he hopes to use the money earned from the sales toward job training for the homeless and create a recreation center for them.

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