CONTRIBUTED BY ERIN STRAIT

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Of course Okinawa has plenty of homeless people, and there are those few faces that you recognize time and time again. One specifically I have seen all over the island, usually hanging out in underpasses with that Okinawa-famous flower hat. Like many homeless regulars of small towns this guy owns the typical rumor of being rich. It is said that he was once extremely rich but something happened to his son that made him go insane.

Tonight on my way home from work I took a different route, just for change, and I saw him. He was sitting on his junk-clad motorbike near the end of a tunnel with a new collaboration of Japanese flags on poles that I had never noticed before. It was beautiful the way the sun was shinning through the end of the tunnel onto him and through his flags. I decided I was going take a chance and take him dinner in the hope of some photo cooperation.

When I first walked up to him, he looked right through me, as most would do to him. I had to literally stop directly in front of him and yell, “Sumimasen,” before he took notice of the bag I held out, his eyes with a child-like glint to them. He took the bag of food and said, “Arigato.” I told him his new sign was sugoi and asked if I could take a shashin. In perfect English he then asked if I spoke Japanese or English and made me feel foolish for my broken Japanese. I answered English and we proceeded to have a small conversation exchanging names and he told me how he wanted to start a church group up near Camp Hansen.

After our small talk I took a few photos and wished him a good night. As I was walking away I felt terrible for trying to bribe him with food for a few photos and right then and there I decided I would bring him dinner if I saw him again.

Is he really a rich guy that lost his way? I’ll never know but his name is Kinjo-San, which translates to golden castle… makes you wonder!

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31 COMMENTS

  1. I met him on the Ishigaki Island in 1991. I was there with a group from YWAM (Youth With A Mission) who were preparing to establish a new church on the island. A couple of us met Kinjo-san in the shopping center. We chatted with him for awhile. Then he came with us to the house where we were staying and had supper with us. That was when he told us about how his son died in an accident and later he broke up with his wife. He said he mostly stays on Okinawa but was on Ishigaki visiting a friend. When we left Okinawa, he went on the ship with us back to Okinawa. During the trip, we gave him a Japanese-language Bible and shared the gospel story with him. That was when he started believing in God. I left Okinawa in 1994 and didn’t know what happened to him after that. Thanks for posting this story.

  2. By chance does anyone know of a Homeless shelter near Lester/Foster area I can donate a lot of NEW Body wash, tooth brushes, deodorants, floss….etc to?

  3. i lived in Okinawa for over five years… there is an homeless man that lives outside of the Kadena Airbase… or use to. I brought him food weekly, and jugs of water. I called him grandfather in Japanese.

    It was a slow process at first, he ran from me for about two weeks in the beginning. But he seemed to bond to me after that, and I cared for him the entire time I was there.

    I have worried about about him and if anyone has seen him. I left Okinawa in 2003. If anyone has seen him, could you please tell me… I would love to know how he fairs.

    Thanks!
    Cindy Parsons

  4. There was once a woman who was always at the gate. Waiting…………. for her American boyfriend who promised to come back for her but never did.
    Another woman who stayed in the same apartment until she died. She was afraid that if she move to a different place her American boyfriend might not be able to find her.
    Japan has a very good welfare system, but some does not want to be in it. Unlike in the US homeless people does not have the chance for assistance.

  5. Thanks for the post on this man! My 3 yr old and I look for him every time we pass under the bridge on 330 from Kubasaki HS. That is where we used to see him. We used to make up stories about him and his adventures. Next time we will stop and ask him about his adventures.

  6. Does anyone remember the lady who used to pound on a metal pole outside of Lester’s Gate all day long? When we were in the school building we could hear her clanking. This went on for a few months before she finally disappeared. Not sure if the police finally took her away, but she was annoying! I was on Oki for 21 years and saw so many homeless. I remember talking to a military guy who would wake up very early in the morning and make scores of pb&j sandwiches and deliver them to all the homeless in the area every day. Eventually he PCSed and it all stopped. It’s great to see that Kinjo San is still in the area.

  7. Starbucks guys update: Well the cops are here again today and Orange Shorts is very drunk and yelling, kicking and shoving the cops. The guy with the dogs was packed up and looked as though he was being escorted away, but he’s sat back down again. Nothing ever seems to come of these cop visits.

  8. I remember this guy from my tour here in 2000 also. The story was that he had lost a son in a traffic accident around Gate 2 and just liked to sit around there to feel closer to him, or something like that. I too had spoken to him and taken his photo at the time. he’s a friendly, quirky guy and it’s kinda nice to know he is still healthy and doing his thing. I’m back in Okinawa now after 10 years and live by Starbucks. Those homeless guys are harmless, but a real eyesore as they do beg for coin and then go in Coco to spend it on beer. However, they don’t go into Coco to use the bathroom, they pee all over the place instead. They want you to give food for their dogs so they can spend the coin they beg for on themselves. I never see them eat and they are in plain view of me all day long. Though harmless, they attract other homeless to them and one of our Japanese neighbors had to have one physcially removed last week after making threatening advances at her. I’ve seen the police try to take the beer from the guy with the dogs and the other guy got quite explosive himself over the situation. It’s hard to be sympathetic when they are living and soiling themselves right outside your apartment night and day.

  9. I know this guy and he is not homeless!!! he is actually a famous guy in Okinawa and now he became as the famous guy in Japan-wide because many media have been writing his article about why he has been doing such a unique thing. He lives in Itoman and because he lost his family member by traffic acctident long time ago and since then he has been traveling around Okinawa and mainland Japan to promote “safty driving” to everybody (according to TV program). As far as I know, he has been doing the campain for over 20 years. He is really nice Ojisan!

  10. This is a great post. I always wonder what people’s stories are. I have always wanted to photograph the starbucks guy but the days I am there I am not in that ‘ask for photo’ frame of mind. It’s cool that you connected with him. I love his flower hat!

  11. What a refreshing post. I love all the posts on here, they are always very informative. Though this one stands on it’s own. Thank you so much for this post.
    God Bless!

  12. This is a good post. I often wonder about the homeless here as well. I’ve stopped and given that man at Starbucks a bag of food for his dog, and money for himself. Also, up here near Courtney I see the same man & woman with a few dogs often. If I see her I always stop and get them something to eat, and drop it off..I’ve always wondered what their stories were.

  13. Hello Erin, I knew the guy when I was a kid. It was 13 years ago. My friends and I called him “Ohayo Ojisan” He always said to everybody “ohayo” so we named him…hahaha.

  14. That is a great story! I have never seen him, because if I do, I will be bringing him a meal also, and I would love to get him to come to church with us…

  15. Amber, thank you for the info! It is like a mystery has been solved. I’ve always wondered where the man by Lester keeps his stuff..now I know he has a home. That is good. The man with the dog at Starbucks sometimes has a friend with him. I always check to see if his big bag of dog food is with him, if not I plan to buy him some more. I love watching his interaction with his playful pup.

  16. I think that man pays for gas by selling the flowers on his head. I have seen him at Sunabe Baba park trying to sell them. He wears extravagant hats with flowers so people will want to take pictures, but he requires a “donation” to do so.

  17. I had a talk with a women that helps with the homeless on the island one day at the park…I hope she reads all this and fills us in on her info. But from what I remember her telling me: the man that walks up and down 58 and up 24 by Lester is a man that is not homeless. But he does have a very bad case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. he is obsessed with trash and picking it up. But his OCD limits him to stay within those borders of where you always see him walking and picking up trash. Also, the man you see by the Starbucks outside of Lester is a homeless man that prefers to be living outside than go to a shelter because he doesn’t want to leave his dog. He does admit he is an alcoholic but would much rather someone give him some dogfood than food for himself. The woman you may see sitting under the overpass by KAB gate 2 is married to the Man you also may see sitting out there. But very rarely will you see them sitting there at the same time. And they are actually not homeless at all. THey live in a big house and are live fairly comfortable…but obviously they must have some sort of mental illness. There is also a man that lives on the beach in his man made “hut” by the Sunabe Baba (dolphin) park. He too “chooses” to live like this. Interesting information huh? Makes me want to deliver dogfood and maybe some dry clothes or gently used shoes to the man on the beach…

    • The man who lives in the hut next to the park is named Teruya-san. I have an interesting story how I meet him, but won’t go into the details. Say it was a divine intervention. Anyway, I purchased a bento and green tea and brought it to him. He is one of the kindest men on the planet, and may I say neatest and organized. He had his recycle pile from beach cleanup, his burn pile for fires, lounging area in the shade, fishing rack and shelter made in an old tomb/cave. With my broken english we became friends, as we sat on the beach together eating bentos and enjoyed a breath taking view of the ocean. In a way I envied his lifestyle. He does have family on the island, but for some reason that I could not understand chooses to live alone. He had a wedding band on, but his wife was deceased. I would visit him often, especially before and after typhoons. Typically I would deliver food, water and tarps. The only thing he ever requested was AA batteries for his 15 yr old transistor radio. During a major typhoon in 2006 I put on my dive mask for eye protection to check up on him. I was getting sand blasted with 100mph winds, knocked on his door, I passed him the goods, heard an arigato, and he sealed the door. It was a CRAZY adventure but I have a heart for the less fortunate. He mentioned during our meetings he has to rebuild his home every major typhoon hits. I noticed the debris line or sea level mark was above his hut. One time I brought my 10 yr old son Casey and we ate soba together. My family and I spent 10 years there in the community and loved every minute. Okinawa is a beautiful island full of beautiful people, great food, amazing culture that has been through so much, but still are the most hospitable people in the world.

  18. How do homeless people pay for gas? He goes to Hansen every afternoon.

    It would be better to photo the people that live outside Kadena gate 1 or the ones that live in the parks.

  19. Thank you for the story. I have not seen this man but do regularly see the man who walks by Lester all day and the man, with the dog, next to the Starbucks accross from Lester. I always wonder what thier story is….

  20. This is a great encounter. Most people ignore the homeless or feel like they are a threat. But behind the “homeless” title, these people had families and life was good to them at some point in their lives. If Kinjo-San wanted to become famous, you have definitely helped by recognizing his existence. Thank you for the pics.

  21. Thanks for sharing Erin, I also remember seeing him on gate 2 street during our previous tour on Okinawa. I’ve often wondered about him too, and what his story might be.

    Great photos too!

  22. Wow, let me begin by saying that this man was here during our last tour to Okinawa in 2000. He could almost always be found under the bridge right outside of Gate 2. Americans would go out on Gate 2 street and bring him drinks out of the vending machine or food. He was one of the few homeless people who didn’t ask people for money. When we came back to Okinawa this past fall, I looked for him when we made the obligitory trip to BC Motors but didn’t see him. I looked for him whenever we would drive out Gate 2, but never saw him so I thought something had happened to him. I’m glad to see he is doing fine and still sporting his flower hat, although he has added quite a few new flowers to his head since the last time I saw him.

    I remember a newspaper writer did a story about this man years ago. He said his goal in life is to become famous. Thanks for the write-up on this man. It may sound silly to some, but it sure does bring back fond memories from our last tour here on the island.

  23. Wow — this made me tear up. However, it is heartwarming in its way and I wish the gentleman well. Hope he finds peace. Thank you for sharing.

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