Internet cafes in Japan are nothing new: They’ve existed for over a decade, but in the mid 2000’s, customers began using these spaces as living quarters. Filmmaker Shiho Fukada turns his lens on Internet cafe refugees in his somber documentary short, “Japan’s Disposable Workers.”

Internet cafe refugees are mostly temporary employees, their salary too low to rent their own apartments. Here’s a harrowing statistic: 38% of Japan’s population are temporary workers, according to Makoto Kawazoe of the Young Contingent Workers Union. These workers have very short-term contracts, and temporary workers earn less than half of full-time employees. “This disparity leads directly to poverty,” says Kawazoe.


One of the film’s subjects, 26-year-old Fumiya, says, “Initially, I was looking for an apartment, but it was very expensive. So I decided to live at the Internet cafe…I want to save money but I can’t. Fortunately, it’s well equipped.”

But after the first night, Fumiya’s sleep was interrupted by the sound of someone washing dishes. He rarely ever feels well-rested.


The film’s second subject, Tadayuki Sakai, worked as a salaryman at a credit card company for 20 years before he quit his job due to high stress and depression. At the time the documentary was filmed, he had been living in an Internet cafe for four months. Sakai explains, “Power harassment is common in Japanese culture. In order to be a successful salaryman in Japan, there is a proverb: Better to bend than to break.”

[via Vimeo/Pulitzer Center]

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