Japan’s jobless rate is currently at 5.2%, which is a record high (way better than America’s, but still). There is a 15.7% poverty rate, one of the highest amongst industrialized nations. 15,800 people live on the streets of Japan (according to the government – in reality this number is probably higher with 10,000+ in Tokyo alone). To sum things up, things aren’t all that great, and the recession is hitting Japan pretty hard as well. If you are poor in Japan, however, there are a couple of interesting options for you. Better than living with the monkeys, anyways.

Capsule Hotels

There was a great article NYT article recently on capsule hotel living, but here’s the summary of it. Originally, capsule hotels were created to be a place for drunken  salarymen to sleep if they stay out too long and miss the last train (or just don’t want to go home). It’s a place to sleep, it does the job, and it’s pretty cheap. You only get a small space (i.e. a capsule) that’s around 6.5 feet long and 4-5 feet wide. There are no doors (just screens) and you get a TV, clean sheets, a pillow, and a roof over your head. Certainly not a posh hotel, that’s for sure.

Capsule Hotel Shinjuku 510, the capsule hotel showcased in the article, started noticing that people weren’t just staying the night… they were staying weeks, and then months. After realizing this, they gave people discounts for paying for a month at a time, and the government even gave the okay to use these hotels as physical addresses, which helps the jobless living here land interviews.

The capsule hotels do have public areas, lockers to rent, public baths, sinks, and more – so it’s not all that bad. The actual capsule area is mostly for sleeping, plus you get a tv to watch. Here’s the kicker, though. You might get around 30 square feet of space, yet it costs around $640 a month. Ouch. To put things in perspective, my tiny apartment is 550 square feet, exists in San Francisco (one of the most expensive areas to rent in the U.S., behind NY), and costs a little over twice that much, yet I’m getting around 18 times the space, plus my own bathroom, kitchen, washer / dryer, etc. Capsule hotels are not cheap, but they’re still cheaper than renting an actual apartment.

Unfortunately, even with the “reduced” prices that a capsule hotel offers, a lot of jobless people run out of savings and have to hit the streets. I gotta say, though. There are a lot of pretty clever homeless abodes in Japan, which makes it your second available option if you end up homeless in Japan.

Getting Your Very Own Blue Tent

Although it sucks to be on the street, I gotta say, if I was going to be on the street, I want to live in one of these. Although not all of them are blue, when you’re passing various parks in Japan, you will often see Japanese tent-societies, and some of them are actually pretty fancy. I’ve heard of some having internet access, even. In the image above, you can see plants growing, a bicycle, and more. There are homeless societies that work together to make money by growing vegetables / crops, put their money together to buy food in bulk (so they can get more for less yen), and more.

This particular shelter has windows!

Since the 1990s, when the Japanese economy went bad, more and more of these tents have appeared all over the place. Japan’s always had trouble admitting that there is / was a homeless problem (Japan has always been proud of its “classless” society, at least in the past), but now it’s becoming enough of an issue that people are taking notice and doing something about it, which is great. Homeless levels still aren’t anywhere near what we see in America, but it’s good to nip the problem at the bud. The BBC has written up a great “news in pictures” article about the homeless in Japan. Definitely take a look if you have the urge.

Living In a Japanese Internet Cafe

Another trick that’s becoming pretty popular, mostly amongst younger folks, is staying in Manga / Internet cafes. Many are open 24 hours, give out free drinks, have showering facilities, and offer privacy. It’s not like the Internet cafes you see here – many facilities offer people their own individual, private rooms, and for $15-$25 a night, a reclining chair (instead of a bed) ain’t all that bad. Plus, while you’re sitting there wishing you could sleep, you can read manga, surf the net, or watch videos. Eventually you’ll get so tired that you’ll be able to sleep, maybe. Keep those free drinks coming!

So there you have it. If you ever find yourself in Japan for the long-term, and are running out of money (and have no source of income), one of these will probably work out for you. Then again, there are always hostels, which are also pretty darn cheap, but why would you want to stay in a hostel when you could do one of these? There’s always beach-bumming in Okinawa, too, though you’d have to figure out how to get there.

P.S. Which one is your favorite? i.e., if you had to live one of these lifestyles for a month, which would you choose? Personally, I’d go with #2 and live in a tent society. Seems like it would be really interesting to meet all kinds of new people and be a part of a community. The other two are a bit too “separate” for me to really dig. Speaking of Digging something, you should Digg this article! Update: Whoops, Digg sucks now. Thanks Reddit. ;)

P.P.S. You should also follow Tofugu on Twitter.

  • Crystal Eio

    Wow doesn’t seem that bad you can’t even get a sleeping space for $25 in Australia not that I know of I wanna go and try it out

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  • wmv to dvd

    There are no doors (just screens) and you get a TV, clean sheets, a pillow, and a roof over your head. Certainly not a posh hotel, that’s for sure.

  • Mel Shinyama

    Hrm… I don’t know if I would do a tent city until I see one. I’ve never seen a community that is like it so I would check it out. But I love people and need to be social. But probably the capsule hotel would be my biggest bet. It may be cramped but I could do it~

  • Jatin Sharma

    Ofcourse tents option are the best.

  • Person

     That would probably help with obesity a bit.

  • Carin Hua

    oh dood i would totally live in the tent societies too! that would be fun xD it’ll be like camping, but daily! :)

  • Norma Flores

    Terrible… awful…
    I’d rather live in the tents. Could you please write about the housing shortage problem in Japan?

  • Earth Lark

    Couchsurfing of course:

  • Earth Lark

    Couchsurfing of course:

  • Frog28

    Not that many war veterans are “unemployable” unless there happens to be mental problems. Most are regular people who learned skills or got a college education while serving in the military.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a good way for homeless in japan..
    we may have a try..

  • lacoste sale

    After realizing this, they gave people discounts for paying for a month at a time, and the government even gave the okay to use these hotels as physical addresses, which helps the jobless living here land interviews.

  • amanduh

    There are a lot of hostels that are used by homeless/day-laborers as well. The ones where I stayed in Osaka were typically something like $20/day. The facilities typically have a public bath and laundry, so they are a popular option. (I accidentally ended up staying in one such hostel.)

  • Adam R. Turner

    Capsule hotels seem like the safest, and you can actually sleep there, and the article suggests you may be able to get a job by looking respectable coming out of a capsule hotel. Tents would have a myriad of problems, from infestations, to water leaks, to lack of oversight. What good’s a community if they all want to rape/murder/take from you, and they’re homeless, which means statistically you’re dealing with more crazy people by far.

  • Ajam_12

    manga cafe is better for me…

  • Hiuh

    Obese people are perfectly employable. There are some resources at if you want to learn how concerns about obesity are largely based in unscientific prejudices, and that being fat or obese or not does not dictate health or ability for the most part.

  • Rawr-Rawr

    I’d go for the internet cafe. As an otaku, it would be pretty cool.

  • Guest

    I’d have to say the manga cafes.  Totally.  Hell, I’m spending the night in one right now as I type this just to see what it’s like.  I already have hostels booked for a trip to Tokyo and Kyoto in March, but for Hiroshima and Kyushu I’m totally staying at cafes!  Especially with the cubicles where you can just sprawl out with some headphones on.

  • Umi F

    I came to US for study and while there are certainly homeless back home, they are not usually sleeping in the streets like the US. I was so sad to see people who seem to be actually starving and sick with no tent or any shelter, just sleeping on cold ground. At least Japan has some tent for people. Some of the tent communities in Japan are like a village with people cooperating with not only each other but taking care of the stray cats. I also know that cheaper apato is available if you search the right places. Mine was very cheap and enough room for me and my bf with separate bath and kitchen room.

  • Jamila Surpris

    too bad there options arent in america it may help out the homeless people here~ and it may not~ ut i think it would tho~ but america has higher crime, japan doesnt sooooo hmmmmmmmmmmmm idk

  • Scott Daniel

    I see the last comment was 3 years ago. I wonder if the tent city is still in Tokyo? I might check it out one day.

  • Fat

    It’s different in Japan, your employer is assessed penalties if too many of their employees are obese. Their standards are much stricter too.

    It makes it very difficult for fat people to be hired, even if their skills are identical or better than a competing candidate. They stop being employable when the government intervenes in this way.

  • Lloyd Hall

    Yea WTF people. This is a grim reality for these people. Most likely, they did not choose to be in this situation.
    Taking this on as a tourist experience is disrespectful and insensitive.

  • Lloyd Hall
  • Tristan Duggan

    What? The article is called “If YOU’RE homeless in Japan,” not “If you’re a tourist and want to try living like the homeless for a month.”

  • Janick in Japan

    Thank you for giving a fresh & realistic look on this serious topic. I believe that by sharing concretely what little options the homeless have in Japan, you made the problem more real, closer to people’s hearts.