Internet Cafe Refugees

Shiho Fukada

With more and more people working on short-term contracts with few benefits and little job security in Japan, some temporary workers haven started living in all-night internet cafes which offer an affordable, if cramped, form of accommodation.~The number of temporary, low-paid workers without benefits and job security has surged in the last decade, now making up about a third of Japan's workforce. The income gap between lifetime workers and their poorer "temp" colleagues is growing and they now earn up to 40% less than those on full time contracts. Some temp workers change jobs frequently, sleeping at 24-hour internet cafes because they can't afford to pay for deposits on a flat or pay the rent between jobs.~The first time Fumiya, 26, slept at the internet cafe, other people's snoring and footsteps kept him awake throughout the night. After ten months living here the noises no longer bother him. Once he got used to sleeping with a blanket over his face to block out the fluorescent lights that stay on through the night, he says living in an internet cafe is "not so bad." Internet cafes have been around in Japan for~

over a decade, but around the mid 2000s, a new type of internet cafe appeared where people are able to sleep, wash and keep some belongings.~Fumiya started living at an internet cafe after he left a job which provided a dormitory. At first, he rented a private booth for 12 hours just to sleep, but he soon realised that he could actually live there. At cyber@cafe you can sleep for 6 hours at 1200 yen (US $15) if checking in sometime between 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. Fumiya has a discounted monthly package and pays 1,920 yen (US $25) a day, US $750 a month. This is still cheaper than renting an apartment because here he doesn't pay for utilities. He currently works 8 hours a day 6 days a week as a security guard and makes abut 230,000 yen (US $2,900) a month. He says he needs about one million yen (US $13,000) to pay for security deposits, agent's fees and furniture for an apartment In Tokyo. Fumiya reckons that it would take two to five years to save up this amount of money. Without job security, he finds it impossible to make long-term plans. "We need these kind of internet cafes" he says. "Without them there would be a lot of people who have jobs but no homes."~~Tadayuki Sakai, 42, smiles broadly when he recalls the moment when he handed his resignation letter to his boss. He worked for a credit card company for 20 years. "I felt so good! So so good!" he shouts. ~~Mr. Sakai's full time position is hard to come by in today's Japan. Lifetime employment has steadily been replaced with low-paid, irregular jobs with few benefits or job security. About 2,700 people with irregular jobs live in internet cafes because they can't afford to live in an apartment, according to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2007. After Mr. Sakai quit his salaryman position, he moved to an internet cafe where he now works as a telephone operator and temps for a friend's computer systems company. Even though living in a bath tub-sized booth is his new reality, Mr. Sakai swears he is much happier being an irregular worker. "I never ever want to become a salaryman again." He neatly organises his belongings in his booth - one pair of black leather shoes, two shirts, a tie, one grey suit, a backpack, and a briefcase. "I have nothing to lose anymore," he says.~~As full time jobs are becoming rarer, many workers question wheter their dedication to a company is worth becoming ill or depressed. Mr Sakai used to put in 200 hours of overtime a month, three to four months a year. "I didn't have time to go home" he says. "I took short naps in the office and resumed work when I woke up." When he was signed off for depression his boss maligned him in front of other workers as being weak and unstable. A culture of bullying and harassment in some Japanese offices is commonplace. One boss ignored him for a month after he turned down a drinks invitation.~ ~According to the survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2007, 60,900 people spent a night at an internet cafe om any given day and 5,400 people live there because they have no home. Called "internet cafe refugees" by the media, they have drawn attention to the plight of short contract workers. Many of them make less than the government's poverty line of 1.12 million yen (US$14,300) per year.~This project was made possible with help from the Alicia Patterson Fellowship and the Pulitzer Center.~

 

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      26 year old Fumiya, a security guard, lives in an...

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      42 year old Tadayuki Sakai relaxes in his private...

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      42 year old Tadayuki Sakai gets ready for work...

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