The Box Man


Fotografie di Leonardo Pellegatta


“Here is the city of the box-men, anonymity is a must, and any residency permission is released upon the strict condition of being no one.”

— Kobo Abe — The Box Man / Hako Otoko

These few lines from “The Box Man”, a prominent novel by Abe Kobo, were the starting point of an extensive journey into a secret city.
The first place I visited was Ueno Park in Tokyo. Here many homeless are still “invisible” residents since several decades: unfolding their card-board houses to rest at night and re-folding them every morning in a silent compromise with the authorities, to preserve the harmony of the park.
From Ueno I was moving a bit further East towards the old city of Asakusa, and then following upstream the Sumida, Arakawa and Edo river, where a vast sea of semi- permanent cardboard accommodations form a hidden city within the city.

Reflecting on concepts of home can lead to several questions about the meaning of it, not simply in relation to our personal center of reference, but also with respect to our investments in family, community, work, and politics. Many people conceptualize home as a space of safety and security and a shelter responds to the same need.

While discovering so many flimsy accommodations along the river of such a futuristic megalopolis, I thought that all these sheltered boxes away from exposure and hiding into the “wilderness”, mimic the establishment of a primordial society and altogether confirm the human kind `s struggle to endure within our contemporary world.

Perhaps the “Box Man” himself evokes an important question: are there lessons to discover from thinking about home in a philosophical, existential way, lessons we can apply to everyday life?

From this perspective I feel that “the box man” is an ordinary man or lady, a no one like each of us…