Japan's Internet Cafés House the Homeless

Gimme shelterGimme shelter

Can you imagine living in an Internet café, even for a single night? Tokyoites who can't find affordable apartments are doing just that. It should be said, however, that many of Japan's Internet cafés offer a level of service and privacy far beyond what many in the West might expect. Private rooms offer TV, comic books, microwave ovens, showers and free soft drinks - in addition to Internet access - at prices ranging from $15 to $25 per night. Compare this with a tiny Tokyo apartment that rents for upwards of $1250 per month... suddenly sleeping each night in a reclining chair doesn't seem so implausible! How did the "café lifestyle" come to be?

This space for rentThis space for rent

Times are tough in Tokyo. A decade-long economic slump and painful corporate restructuring has created a lost generation of job seekers who find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. The "rock" is the need to hold a steady job before landlords will consent to rent; the "hard place" is the preference of employers to hire fresh college graduates over those who flit from job to job. Even low-paying, entry level work has become difficult to find in Japan as companies increasingly outsource to China and the rest of Asia. So-called "freeters", a word coined in Japan that describes those squeezed out of the white-collar labor pool, go from one part-time or low-paying job to another, making about $10 per hour when they're actually working. Living economically is a must, and private rooms at Internet cafés fill the bill without busting the budget.

The drinks are on the house, so make it a double!The drinks are on the house, so make it a double!

Though Japan's economy is in recovery mode, the days of "jobs for life" and other facets of the Bubble Economy are history. "Freeters" and the working poor, on the other hand, may be here to stay. In this new and very un-Japanese world, living in an Internet café is no longer an aberration. For many, it's a lifestyle. (via The Courier-Mail , additional images via Japan Photo Guide)

Steve Levenstein
Japanese Innovations Writer

Jul 22, 2007
by Steve Levenstein
Steve Levenstein's picture


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