Internet Café Refugee: What does it Mean?

Have you ever thought about living in an internet café? Most people wouldn’t come up with the idea, but the Japanese have. People in Japan who can’t afford apartments are living in internet cafés and making them their homes. They are so called ‘internet café refugees’ (netto kafe nanmin).

Maybe a brief description of a Japanese internet cafe would be helpful to understand this article better if you haven’t been there before. Well, most internet café offer a wide range of services. Firstly, you rent a booth like a little room with a computer and reclining chair for a fixed time starting with 30 minutes up to 8 hours. On the same floor they have shelves of manga, free tea and coffee, couches and blankets as well as showers. There are menus in your booth so that you can order food through a phone hanging on the wall. As you can see, you can get almost everything there that you would ever need for living!

The number of people that are ‘internet café homeless’ is continuing to grow. According to a Japanese Government report published in 2007 on this new type of homelessness there are at least 5,400 people sleeping in internet cafés and similar places such as capsule hotels and 24-hour family restaurants.

But why can’t they afford an apartment? Renting an apartment you need to have certain amount of money for several months’ deposit. Landlords usually require a warrantor paying the rent in case the tenant is not able to do so. Getting the money together for the advance payment and finding a warrantor is difficult for a day laborer. In the last two decades the numbers of part-time workers have been increasing, which can be explained by corporate restructuring as a result of a long economic slump in Japan. The new strategy employed by Japanese companies back in the 1990s is to reduce manpower cost; hiring many part-time workers and contract workers instead of full-time workers. Non full-time workers have no social security benefits, so they are often disadvantaged on the labor market. On the other hand, Japan also faces the problem of a severe shortage of manpower due to the low birth rate. To resolve ‘internet homelessness’ the working conditions of part- time workers need to improve.

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