Dealing with the disposable

September 17th, 2009 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Aun recently rented the building across the street to cover expansion

Awn recently rented the building across the street to cover expansion

Recycling unwanted household effects is a big business and will likely become even bigger in the future. In most cases you have to pay to have your stuff hauled away, even by those little trucks that drive slowly around residential neighborhoods calling for people to give them their used computers, stereos, what-have-you. These businesses say they’ll take your things for free, but once you bring the item all the way to their truck they usually have some kind of handling fee they forgot about.

Outside looking in

There are places that will take your still usable refuse for free; though, of course, they’ll be more selective about it. One is Awn (pronounced “ah-oon”; it stands for Asian Workers Network), which is located in Higashi Nippori in eastern Tokyo. Awn started eight years ago as a “recycle shop” whose purpose had less to do with recycling or making money than with jobs.

The business is staffed by people, mostly older men, who are or used to be homeless. When Awn started it had five workers and now it has about 20. These men earn all their money through their work for the shop, which accepts donations of a wide range of items. Over the years Awn has expanded and moved several times. Many of the men who work there have earned enough money to get off the street, which is, in the end, the real aim of the enterprise.

In terms of donations, Awn is mainly interested in men’s clothing because it can also give clothing away to homeless men. Since their space is limited there are some items of clothing they don’t accept, like skirts and kimono. They do accept women’s apparel but only that which is considered “practical,” meaning sellable. They accept accessories like bags, hats, and even shoes, but no men’s suits. Also, no skiwear or white dress shirts.

They also accept furniture, household goods, and electronics, but you should call first. They greatly appreciate it if the electronics come with users manuals, necessary cables and warranties, even if the warranty is expired. TVs are an exception. They do not take any television set made before 2001, and they only take “small” TVs, though the definition of “small” seems to be fluid. It goes without saying that the newer the item, the more interested Aun is.

Because many of the staff are former or underemployed construction workers, Awn also does reform work on buildings and all-purpose freelance cleaning of properties. They also repair and refurbish all the items they receive themselves to get them ready to sell, which is why Awn also has a dedicated clientele of locals who shop there on a regular basis. Many of these people, in fact, are newcomers to the city, taking advantage of the area’s cheaper rents who need inexpensive things to start new lives in Tokyo. And, as the name indicates, these workers aren’t necessarily Japanese.

1-36-10 Higashi Nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo
Tel/fax (03) 5604-0873
awn0873@nifty.com


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