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Japan Big Issue starts online subscriptions to support homeless vendors' tumbling incomes

A man is seen selling the Big Issue in Kita Ward, Osaka, on April 11, 2020. (Mainichi/Ryoichi Mochizuki)

OSAKA -- Sales of the Big Issue magazine by homeless vendors in Japan's usually busy urban hubs have plummeted as the spread of the novel coronavirus has kept people indoors, inflicting a serious hit on sellers' income.

To try to cover the vendors' living costs for the time being, its publishers have turned to selling the magazine online. But some vendors have said that the pandemic has stolen a valued part of their lives, by taking away the opportunity to speak with customers in the street.

The Big Issue was founded in the U.K., and the Japanese edition commenced publication in the western city of Osaka in 2003. According to The Big Issue Japan, based in the city's Kita Ward, it employs around 100 homeless people and others across the country to sell the magazine. It is printed twice a month, and sellers get 230 yen of the 450-yen cover price of each issue.

Many vendors install themselves at station fronts and other areas where many commuters come and go, but the spread of the novel coronavirus and the resultant fall in people stepping outside has caused their incomes to drop. The publisher reportedly began to hear from its sellers that they were struggling to make enough to eat.

One man, 57, who has been selling in an area close to JR Osaka Station for around two years, said that he typically sells about 15 magazines a day, but that his sales have tumbled as his regular customers have disappeared due to stay-at-home directives and the state of emergency declaration on April 7. Citing continual days of low demand, he said, "I don't even know how I'm going to be able to live tomorrow."

With this suffering becoming more widespread, the Big Issue Japan's publishers began taking advance orders for delivery of the six issues to be printed over the next three months. They put out calls for support on social media and other platforms, and by April 22 had received 6,000 orders; far exceeding their expected 2,000.

The profits are set to be distributed primarily to the 60 or so sellers in particularly difficult financial situations. Shoji Sano, the co-head of Big Issue Japan, said, "We are very thankful for the warmth people have shown in helping us go much higher than our order projection."

Each issue of the magazine sells around 20,000 copies. Although it's difficult to say whether the people in poverty retailing the publication will be making enough to cover living expenses with the advance issue income in addition to the copies they sell, it is significant that sales are continuing.

Sano said, "One of the original aims of the Big Issue is to create opportunities to reconnect with society through face-to-face interactions the selling creates. Until the day when an environment where that can be done returns, we ask people to please give their support."

The seller working near Osaka Station echoed Sano's comments, saying, "Really I want to see people's faces and talk to them, and directly hand over the magazine. I'd like to see corona disappear soon."

Orders for deliveries of the Big Issue Japan can be placed at their website, which is in Japanese, on the following link:

https://www.bigissue.jp/2020/04/12874/

(Japanese original by Yuta Kumamoto, Osaka City News Department)

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