The Asahi has a report about the growing phenomenon of people living in Internet cafes:
…[F]or a growing number of young people, the coffee-shop-cum-entertainment-centers are not just a home away from home but home itself.
Most are freeters–job-hopping part-timers–who hit hard times and have no permanent place to live. They have found a haven in the cafes, which offer showers and private cubicles at a bargain price.
On a recent evening, a 30-year-old man from Osaka entered one such place in the city’s Umeda entertainment district. He signed up for the late-night rate, which allows a five-hour stay for 1,500 yen starting at 10 p.m. The man slipped into one of the private booths, carrying a backpack.
He quickly showered, brushed his teeth and then burrowed under a blanket that comes with the room. He stretched out in a reclining seat as best he could and tried to catnap.
Asahi gives some background to the problem later in the article:
Internet cafes that offer multiple services including overnight stays began cropping up around 1999. According to the industry organization that represents them, 1,320 such cafes had registered for business around the nation as of the end of September.
“The rates are better than saunas and capsule hotels,” says Hirohiko Kato, 52, who owns a cybercafe chain with 55 outlets nationwide. “And in addition to that, cafes offer special perks such as bottomless soft drinks. Multiple-service cafes have become especially popular in major city areas.”
A cafe manager at a large-scale cybercafe with 150 seats in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, says: “We serve about 140 overnight customers a night on average. About 10 percent are regulars we see come in carrying large bags.”
They act like this is a new problem. There have been reports of people being “caught” living in Internet cafes for a least a year now. The cafes all differ in what they offer and what they’ll tolerate, but most run 24 hours a day and many offer showers and toiletries, supposedly to cater to businessmen who missed the last train for the night.
What Asahi doesn’t mention is that many of the large karaoke box chains such as Jumbo operate a large number of these cafes, though their services weren’t all that great when I used them in 2003. In the Japanese version of the article, an NGO manager who has reportedly dealt with some people in this situation describes the phenomenon as a “gray zone” in public policy that the government needs to start paying attention to. The use of the word “gray zone” compares this issue to the disastrous “gray zone” loophole in personal lending regulations that has allowed legalized loan sharks to aggressively market their services and charge usurious interest rates, which has directly led to an increase in robberies and suicides over the years. Such a comparison seems a little alarmist to me. But given the large and growing share of regular business they’re constituting for this new industry, attempting to stamp it out may not be easy or realistic.
I myself have used net cafes as hotels before and have enjoyed my stays, even if the chairs weren’t ideal for sleeping. From my standpoint, living in an Internet cafe with endless free drinks and fast Internet is almost like living the dream. But this can hardly be an ideal situation for people who have run into hard times. What I don’t understand is why these establishments don’t offer proper beds in the first place when it’s clear a good portion of their customers use the facilities that way. There must be some kind of regulation they’re bumping into. If there really is a growing trend of semi-homeless people living in the Internet cafes, I’m not sure I see a big problem with this. It’s better for them to have a cheap place to stay rather than rot in the streets like the day laborers in Nishinari, Osaka.