Japan: Living in an Internet Cafe

Tadayuki Sakai moved to an Internet cafe in Tokyo shortly after leaving his job at a credit card company, where he worked for 20 years. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

A customer enters a comic book cafe that offers overnight accommodations. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Sakai, 42, relaxes in his room at the end of the day. He now works as a telephone operator and temps for a friend's computer systems company. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Rooms in one of the Internet cafes come with a hanger, headphones, a computer and a television. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Fumiya, 26, has lived in an Internet cafe for close to a year. He works as a security guard but can't afford an apartment in Tokyo. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Slippers line the hallway outside the residents' doors. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Each morning, Sakai dresses up and commutes to work. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Fumiya brushes his teeth in a shared bathroom at the Internet cafe. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Sakai says he wants to save up enough money to leave Japan. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Sakai's belongings include a pair of black leather shoes, two dress shirts, a tie, a grey suit, a backpack and a briefcase. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Check-in records of long-term residents are stored in the hallway. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Aya, 18, lives in an Internet cafe with her mother, who rents the room next to her. They lost their home in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Image by Shiho Fukada. Japan, 2012.

Story by Brett Roegiers, CNN

Fumiya has learned to sleep with a blanket over his face to block out the fluorescent lights that stay on all night. Unable to afford an apartment in Tokyo, he has been living in an Internet cafe for nearly a year.

At 26, he is part of Japan’s struggling working class. Temporary workers with little job security now make up more than a third of the country’s labor force, according to government statistics.

People like Fumiya, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy, have been hit hard by the recession in Japan.

His story illustrates the economic crisis photographer Shiho Fukada has been covering since 2009. A native of Tokyo, she had been living in New York for 10 years when she started a documentary project with funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

“For a long time, Japan has been associated with prosperity and a vast middle class supported by stable lifetime employment,” Fukada said. “That's the country I knew and grew up in.”

But upon returning, she sensed that employees were becoming increasingly disposable in the world’s third largest economy. Companies looking to cut costs had replaced full-time jobs with low-paid temp positions.

As a result, some of the people without enough money to pay rent have been sleeping in Internet cafes.

At a discounted monthly rate of about 1,920 yen ($21) a day, the 24-hour cafes offer private rooms with computers, reclining chairs, and an endless supply of coffee and soft drinks. Shared bathrooms and laundry service are also included.

“Though they are provided with necessities, I thought it was like living in a coffin – small and dark,” Fukada said. “It is really uncomfortable to stay in a tiny space like that for a long time.”

It took her three years to convince the owner of one of the Internet cafes to grant her access to its residents. She says he eventually agreed because he believed his business was helping people who would otherwise be living on the streets.

According to a 2007 study from Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, an average of 60,900 people spent the night in an Internet cafe on any given day. Of those, an estimated 5,400 were long-term residents.

Fukada says it's important to look beyond the numbers. Through her work, she hopes to reveal a glimpse into the lives of the people being affected by the global economic downturn.

“One thing has become clear to me over time, especially in the current financial crisis,” she said. “No matter the job, most of us no longer have job security. Our labor is replaceable.”