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.
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.