Unemployed Japanese living in 30sqft “capsules”

January 2, 2010

Sad/fascinating piece from Hiroko Tabuchi in NYT: For some in Japan, Home is a tiny plastic bunk

For Atsushi Nakanishi, jobless since Christmas, home is a cubicle barely bigger than a coffin — one of dozens of berths stacked two units high in one of central Tokyo’s decrepit “capsule” hotels….

Now, Hotel Shinjuku 510’s capsules, no larger than 6 1/2 feet long by 5 feet wide, and not tall enough to stand up in, have become an affordable option for some people with nowhere else to go as Japan endures its worst recession since World War II.

Such quarters are surprisingly expensive: $640 per month. About $20 per square foot per month. A 650 square foot one bedroom in a good Manhattan neighborhood — the most expensive rental market in the U.S. I’m sure — probably averages about $2500. Less than $4 per sqft per month.

The comparison is not totally fair. These are technically hotels, not apartments.  Still, I think it’s worth making because the article says many now stay months on end.

Tabuchi doesn’t mention how widespread such hotels are in Japan, though his use of the plural in his opening paragraph suggests this isn’t the only one of its kind. He does mention Japan’s “hidden” homeless, noting that many overnight in internet cafes.

Make sure to see the slideshow attached to the article. The “capsules” may be 6.5 feet long, but sure don’t look 5 feet wide.


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I just rented a small apartment in Central Tokyo for 2 months, about 35 sq metres. That cost 145.000 yen per month, plus utilities charge of 20.000 yen per month (so total about 1800 dollars per month), and upfront a 20.0000 yen fee for “cleaning”.
It is not very obvious at first when you are in Tokyo that there are many homeless people around. However, once you get to know the signs you see them everywhere. Many shanty-town type houses are along the rail tracks, the parks have self made huts in more dense tree areas and under almost every bridge a few people are sleeping in boxes during the night. I recently saw a salvation army hand out of goods, and the line was stretching to the end of the road, and then back all the way on the other side of the road. Most homeless Japanese are very well behaved.

Posted by M | Report as abusive

at Shinjuku, the homeless men who sleep in the street line their sleeping bags up just so; with all their gear organised neatly by their heads. its so sad

Posted by crocodilechuck | Report as abusive

… and unemployed Americans live in cars.

Posted by Mikey | Report as abusive

It seems to me that what Japan really needed but never got was a good deflationary depression. Not this twenty-year disease but a good and brutal 2 or 3 years that bankrupts everybody and lets things reset at something like a 50% lower price level.

Isn’t it strange that Japan remains one of the most expensive places on the planet? Should productivity and economic prowess drive prices down? (Although if you need medical care, you can get superior care in Japan vs. America at just a fraction of the price. This nation of chain smokers lives longer than any other on Earth! It seems in America, medical care practicioners, hospitals, insurance companies, drug companies and malpractice lawyers are all looking first to maximize income whereas in Japan the culture is just to make a living.)

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

At first, I thought having a little cubical just to get out of the elements was a nice option…assuming it cost about 30$ a month. 640$$$ !!!!

Posted by fresno dan | Report as abusive