Water Week

EWN Publishing

New Japanese underclass, “net cafe refugees”, emerges: homeless and low-paid, living in cubicles, and net lounges

Posted by waterweek on 17 October 2007

According to a recent Japanese Government survey of the people the media has dubbed “net cafe refugees”, 5,400 people spent at least half the week living in cafes such as Manga Square, though most had little or no interest in the Internet, wrote Justin McCurry in The Canberra Times (11/10/2007, p.4).


New underclass: Instead, they were attracted by the low cost of a night’s accommodation, an expanding array of services and the sympathetic attitude of cafe owners. The government survey found that about half of the net cafe refugees worked in low-paid temporary jobs, while 2,200 had no job at all. Those in work earned just over 100,000 yen ($950) a month – about the same as the minimum wage for a 40-hour week, but nowhere near enough to afford a tiny apartment of their own. About a quarter were in their 20s but it was not unusual to find men – four out of five net cafe refugees were male – in their 50s and 60s sleeping in places such as Manga Square. They were members of a new underclass.

Trend to get worse: “Ten years ago I would never have believed we’d see people living in net cafes,” said Makoto Yuasa, of the Moyai Independent Life Support Centre, a non-profit organisation that offered advice on housing and job-seeking to the unemployed and poorly paid. But in today’s Japan it was a fact of life. “These people are basically homeless, even though they are not sleeping rough. If you surveyed everyone with no permanent home, the figure would run into the tens of thousands.” The number of 25-to-34-olds in nonregular employ stood at around 26 per cent, and was spreading beyond the service sector. Official figures showed that 640,000 Japanese under 35 were classed as Neets. The Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, a private think-tank, estimated that if current trends persist, the Neet population would rise to more than a million over the next 10 years.

Home away from home: They included Hiroshi Miyamoto, one of the first people to arrive at Mankitu, an Internet cafe in Tokyo’s sprawling Shinjuku district, late on a recent Monday evening. The air here reeked of stale smoke, sweat and fried food, but for 380 yen (3.60) an hour, Miyamoto, 33, was given a private cubicle furnished with a long couch, a PC and a desk lamp. There was a shower room on the premises, and the reception sold soap, shampoo and hand towels for a fraction of the price charged in the high street.

The Canberra Times, 11/10/2007, p. 4

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