On a cold winter's day in December, an African man sits in a meeting room at the Japan Association for Refugees, a nonprofit organization in Tokyo. The man, whose name and country of origin have been withheld to protect his identity from those who wish him and his family harm, has been seeking refugee status in Japan since 2008.

Stacked with boxes filled with winter clothing, sleeping bags and blankets, the room is a reflection of the difficult lives asylum seekers face in Japan.

Back in his home country in Africa, the asylum seeker was a key member of an opposition party that was campaigning for democracy. He claims to have been detained and tortured by ruling party officials, and says his family was attacked, resulting in the tragic murder of his uncle. Fearing for his life, he managed to get out of the country with a little help from a Christian church group and made his way to Japan.