Yoshihiro Matsuda, Team Japan 2011: No More Running Away

23 January 2012

Yoshihiro Matsuda, who captained Japan at the Paris 2011 Homeless World Cup, fell into homelessness after losing both parents to cancer in quick succession. Through football and the Big Issue, he has re-connected with his family and faced his fears head on.

Yoshihiro Matsuda, 49, remembers the night he first slept outdoors in Tokyo.

“Hey, mister. Mind if I lie down near you?” Matsuda asked a man wrapped in an old blanket in front of a bus stop at Shinjuku Station around New Year's Day, two years ago. He remembers shivering with cold and uncertainty.

Matsuda was born in Ishikawa Prefecture and had been working in sales in Nagoya when his father died of cancer in 1998. His mother was stricken by cancer two years later. He quit his job to take care of her, but she died six months later. Soon after, due to depression, he left home with just one bag and didn’t tell anyone where he was going.

For 10 years, Matsuda worked on construction sites in Kobe that offered places to stay. His health deteriorated to a point where he could no longer do the work. He later learned, his elder sister filed a missing persons report and his family record was eliminated on the assumption that he had died.

He arrived to Tokyo and ran out of money. It was in the capital that he first came into contact with homeless people selling “Big Issue” magazines on the streets. Matsuda signed up as a seller and also got involved in a team of Big Issue sellers preparing for the 2011 Homeless World Cup.

As the team goalkeeper, Matsuda started to reintegrate into normal society. In order to to get a passport to travel to Paris he needed to re-establish his deleted family record with the help of his older sister. After long hesitation, he called his sister who simply said: “You should have contacted me much earlier,” speaking to him for the first time in 11 years.

To make money, Matsuda began collecting waste paper part-time. The president of the company that hired him for the job allowed him to live in a cordoned off section of the company warehouse and use it his official home address, something he needed for his passport and other crucial paperwork.

Matsuda spent seven months re-establishing his family record, and got his passport just 10 days before the Homeless World Cup. On a team where the average age was 38 years, Matsuda was appointed captain, wearing the No. 1 jersey.

He is currently doing a part-time administrative job he got through the support organization that helped organize the Homeless World Cup team, while continuing to sell the Big Issue and collect waste paper. His next goal is to find a steady full-time job, hopefully using computers, which he has taught himself to use.

He recently put a “name plate” up by the entrance of his home, a six-tatami room in a corner of the warehouse. He wrote his full name on white paper using a magic marker.

He doesn’t know how many years it will take, but he hopes to someday create a space for other homeless people to live.


Written by Chisato Matsumoto of The Asahi Shimbun.

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