Online but off the grid – Japan’s internet café homeless

Websurfers in an internet cafeIn an example of interstitial existence that sounds like it leaped straight from the pages of a William Gibson novel, the Japanese government has announced that there are over 5,000 “internet café refugees” eking out a living at the bottom of the social strata, taking what temporary work they can and dossing down in 24-hour internet cafés in the absence of a home of their own. Even in the shadow of our ubiquitous technologies, the same social issues that have existed for centuries are following us into the future … [Image by Kai Hendry]

8 thoughts on “Online but off the grid – Japan’s internet café homeless”

  1. It’s interesting; I’d heard that these things are in use by businessmen who quit drinking at 02:00 or later, and don’t want to sleep on benches until the first trains start running at 05:00 or so. I’ve also seen them touted as an alternative to youthhostels, esp. since many boast shower facilities.

    This is the first I’ve heard about interstitial residency in them.

  2. Living in Japan, I’ve come into contact with these quite a bit. A friend of mine crashes out in one when he stays out drinking past last train (a ridiculously early 11:30pm).

    Last week I went to one to check emails after our connection was cut for some reason. The one I used to use often has moved to a bigger place and you can choose between a reclining chair to browse in, or a ‘mat.’ I opted for the mat because a recliner isn’t conducive to sitting close the monitor or keyboard. But the mat was just that, a padded mat. It wasn’t quite enough for me to stretch out fully, but then at 188cm, I’m rather tall for this country.

    If I can find a good one, it would be a good alternative to the claustrophobic capsule hotel when I go to Tokyo and go out drinking. In my town of 250k people, it’s a quite economical US$25 or so for a 5hr stretch.

    My colleagues told me about a previous coworker, a heavy drinker with ‘social problems’ who was evicted from his apartment and spent the last 6 months he was there living in cafes.

    Hope you find these anecdotes intriguing.

  3. I visited an Internet cafe in Tokyo back in 2002. I don’t think it was open 24 hours a day but I could see people living in there, it was definitely dark enough. The food prices were kind of high, I seem to remember french frys being about 300 yen. However, it is good to know that if I find myself on the streets of the neon city after the trains stop I can catch a few z’s and check my email at the same time.

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