Japanese homeless hired to help tourists

2011-12-13 10:10

Tokyo - Homeless people have been hired to run a tourist information booth in the Japanese city of Sapporo, known for its cuisine and yearly snow festival, in a bid to fight prejudice while helping lost visitors.

Five staff, all currently or formerly homeless, have been trained to act as city guides at the booth, opened on Friday by a magazine dedicated to helping the homeless earn a living.

The plan was approved by city authorities in Sapporo, a city on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido that is visited by millions of tourists each year and is the gateway to some of the country's top ski resorts.

"I hope that the information desk will help people discard their prejudice against homeless people and provide homeless people with a social connection," Nagisa Hirata, a volunteer at magazine Big Issue Sapporo, told AFP.

The employees do not earn a salary but instead get a cut from sales of the 300-yen ($3.80) magazine, Hirata said, adding that the booth is on a busy underground pathway that is warm and "not affected by weather".

Temperatures in Sapporo dip well below freezing each winter.