Over the past 10 years, Internet cafes in Japan have become hotels for the underemployed. Many are equipped with tiny private booths, showers, and laundry service and offer reasonably priced packages for overnight users. The monthly rate at one cafe is 1,920 yen ($19) a day. In 2007, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 60,900 people spent a night at an Internet cafe, and about 5,400 were living in them full time.
Finding residents willing to be photographed wasn’t easy. In 2009, I started by waiting outside cafes at night, approaching people arriving with suitcases. No one wanted to talk. People living in Internet cafes are not proud of it and want to keep their living and working conditions secret. The cafes themselves share this discretion: Only one of the several I approached, Cyber@cafe in Tokyo, granted me access. Akihiro Sato, the owner, believes his business is helping those who would otherwise be homeless.