Tokyo: A Road Less Travelled

Day 1 : Monday, 12 July 2010

By Alan Yeo


The room in the clinic could barely contain us but it was inconsequential as we sat riveted on two patient examination beds, listening to the heart-warming and compassionate stories of our wonderful hosts from Sanyukai, whose hearts were larger than the physical space with rooms for all who are poor, living on the streets in tents and needing a friend. Sanyukai is a non-profit organisation that runs a free clinic, provides housing, clothes and food for the “street people.”



It had been a long and tiring journey for the Peacemakers on the Road, after an overnight flight from Changi Airport to Narita. Summer has arrived in Tokyo but so has the July rain. Nevertheless, the weather was less humid and the occasional breezy wind was a great welcome. It was a smooth journey except for the taxi ride to the hotel when some of us arrived later as the drivers were not familiar with our hotel’s location. Unlike travellers heading for popular tourist’s spots, ours was a road less travelled. We wanted to see what God is doing in Japan and we found “Him” amongst the “street people” in the Sanya district of Tokyo.


Mr Moriya, a 70 year-old part-timer at Sanyukai, was our guide that day. Nobody would have guessed his age, as he was moving about with such agility, energy and passion. He befriends the “street people” and provides for their needs – shoes, clothes, tooth-brushes. He also distributes food such as rice balls to them. He knows the “street people” by names and sometimes he would even be called to identify someone who had passed away on the street. As we paced along with him, we came to a crossing where he explained that the Japanese street name means, “Bridge of Tears,” that characterised the marginalisation of the “street people” from the society at large and the “street people” had to part with tears. In reality, the “street people” had homes and families before they ended up on the streets. Some are professionals such as the story of a doctor who couldn’t overcome his alcohol addiction or a dentist who was running away from loan sharks after borrowing 300,000 yen. Their stories and circumstances are different but often, they are all stigmatised with shame to face their loved ones.


Meeting Sister Rita Burdzy was to me like meeting Mother Theresa, a humble sister full of compassion and love for God and the “street people.” She was there when the Sanyu clinic received their first patient and recently their 100,000th patient. She came to Japan in 1981 and taking up the challenge of volunteering her service in Japan, she did her nursing studies in Japanese and earned a Japanese Nursing License. One could feel her devotion and love for people and often in her conversations, she would call the “street people” friends and she would make great effort to remember their names. We were also blessed by the many wonderful stories and lessons that Rita shared with us concerning her encounters with the people whom she serves. She also visits inmates at the maximum security prison once a month, those who do get any visitors or those who need to talk to someone.


It has been a long but eventful day for the POR and we are glad to have met people like Sister Rita Burdzy, Mr Moria and many others in Sanyukai who have inspired us, as in the words of Rita, that we too can “learned and received much from those who are thought by society to be without value in a country that prizes material possessions and status.”


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