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"I'm using toothpicks as brushes because they don't cost anything."

SAKAMOTO-san

"I'm using toothpicks as brushes because they don't cost anything."

August 1999
"I used to be a construction labourer, and I worked in a kitchen, but the Japanese economy is in a state of depression, isnft it? We have been unable to get jobs for a long time. Now we are at a loss about it. We often make forceful representations to the Shinjuku Social Welfare office about the matter, but they are not helpful at all. They just pretend to be busy. They exist as the governmentfs excuse: "Look! the government has a social welfare desk."

I can speak Chinese, because I worked with Chinese people for a long time. I used to think that I wanted to be an interpreter. But with Chinese there are not many good jobs, and I have no money to get a license for interpreting anyway.

I made our banner for this festival. I like drawing. I want to show my drawing to you." Geoff then taught Mr Sakamoto some basic drawing skills... "It is very useful, thank you very much for teaching me."

January 2000.
Asahi TV is making a film about Mr.Sakamoto as a homeless artist. After last summer, he started to sell his drawings on the street, and he sold two drawings in front of the huge department store, Takashimaya. He says:

"When I got work as a day labourer, I have got some money. When I draw and paint, I canft get enough money to live. Ifm struggling between them. Also, art materials are bloody expensive: papers, acrylic colours... so Ifm using toothpicks, as brushes, because they donft cost anything."

May 2001
We bumped into Sakamoto-san at Shinjuku station. He has found a temporary job, and can afford accommodation while he is working, but when it ends he will be back in the park. Since last year he has had exhibitions at a Tokyo university and in America, and appeared on famous film director Takeshisi Kitanofs television programme... but he is still homeless as he cannot find regular work.

August 2004 We met Sakamoto-san again at a Kaze Machi Kissa, a support cafe in Tokyo. He has a flat of his own as he is receiving some welfare due a serious back problem, going to a special surgery twice a week. He has continued to paint when he can but it is a serious thing for him and he only paints when his circumstances and health mean he can concentrate properly ? so he is frustrated. He does unpaid voluntary work three days a week in Sanya. We arranged to meet at the Shinjuku homeless festival, where I photographed his carefully guarded folder of paintings.

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