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Japan’s Underemployed are Forced to Live in Internet Cafes

Japan’s internet cafe refugees are a symptom of a larger labor issue.

A new documentary is shining a light on Japan’s “internet cafe refugees.” Since the late 1990s, underemployed workers with no means to secure housing have been choosing to live in these close, tight, ephemeral spaces. The phenomenon is a symptom of many larger issues with the country’s labor culture and laws.

Filmmaker Shiho Fukada follows the lives of two men currently residing in internet cafes—one, young and ambitious to become a salaried employee, the other, an aging ex-corporate employee who suffers from depression and sees his unemployment and break from Japan’s corporate “fraternity like” culture as a gift. Both men eat, sleep and browse the web within the tiny cubicles they rent, and brush their teeth in the public restroom.

”Internet cafe ‘refugees’ started popping up around the late 1900s,” explains Makoto Kawazoe, Secretary General of the Tokyo Young Contingent Workers Union and Head of Labor-Net Japan. “But it has become a larger social issue in the 2000s. Currently in Japan about 38 percent are temporary workers. Most temporary workers have very short term contracts. Temporary workers earn less than half of full time employees. This disparity directly leads to poverty. Further, in Japan it’s hard to receive unemployment benefits. In our society, once you lose your job, you cannot survive.”

Net Cafe Refugees” is the second in a three-part documentary series in which Fukada explores the state of Japan’s “Disposable Workers.”

Watch the short film here.

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