Japan: Life out of a Manga Kissa

A report just released by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has found that the much talked about phenomenon of “net cafe refugees“, a controversial term used to refer to people without homes who sleep in Internet cafes or “manga kissa“, is affecting thousands of people across Japan. While previously predicted to be widespread, the report is the first to provide concrete numbers on the phenomenon, estimating that over 5400 people regularly spend their nights in net cafes. As an alternative to more expensive options such as hotels and hostels, Internet cafes offer low-cost private rooms with Internet access, comic books, meals and sometimes even showers. Life out of such places, however, is generally grim, with many caught in a vicious circle struggling to find stable employment. The phenomenon itself may point to deeper problems in the Japanese economy.

Manga Kissa
Desk and computer at a manga kissa (from cava_cavien's flickr page)

Blogger Hamachan outlines the main points of the report:

>1 短期派遣労働者には若年層が多く特に男性においては正社員になることを希望する者も多く見られること

1. Among short-term temporary workers, it was found that there are many young people, and that, particularly among men, there are many people hoping to find permanent full-time employment.

>2 住居を失い寝泊まりのためにネットカフェ等を常連的に利用する住居喪失者は約5,400人と推計されその年齢構成としては20歳代と50歳代に山がみられること

2. It was estimated that there are around 5400 people who have no home and are regularly using net cafes as a place to sleep, and it was found that there are two peaks in the age distribution, one in the 20s [age range] and one in the 50s [age range].

>3 住居喪失者である短期派遣労働者は両調査において一定数見られたが概数調査によれば約600人住居喪失者は短期派遣労働者ばかりでなく、むしろ「短期直用労働者」や「失業(1ヶ月未満の直接雇用契約)者」のほうが多いこと

3. In both surveys, it was found consistently among short-term temporary workers that there is a group — according to the survey with approximate figures estimated at around 600 people — who actually do not work only as temporary workers, but in fact work more in “short-term direct employment” [tanki chokuyou roudousha] or are unemployed (direct hire for a period of less than one month).

kiraku-10, meanwhile, posts a question at a message board pointing out an apparent contradiction:


Companies are saying that there are not enough “workers”, but at the same time on television they are talking about “net cafe refugees”.
Seems to me that there is no good way to connect these two.
Doesn't each of them have conditions that are not compatible?
Even though everybody does want to work —

Some bloggers argued that the numbers from the report were actually probably conservative. Blogger junike explains:


There are probably also people spending their time at other places, and there might actually be more people who are not regulars users of net cafes but who are also living this kind of lifestyle.

Reading manga a manga kissa
Reading manga at a manga kissa (from cava_cavien's flickr page)

At news express, however, another blogger presents a view from outside of the city:


For the first time in a while, I went to a net cafe yesterday. The reason I went was that I had seen Dragon Zakura in a rebroadcasting of a television drama and wanted to read the original, so I went to find the Dragon Zakura manga.
In the news they are saying that there are a lot of people that are becoming net cafe refugees, and that this has even spread to middle aged and elderly people who now are also becoming net cafe refugees. I haven't seen a single person that looks like a net cafe refugee here in the country though.

Many bloggers reflected on the connection between net cafe refugees and Japanese society as a whole. One blogger writes:


Certainly the wage-disparity society, as a phenomenon, is here,
and poverty may also give rise to crime.
Even if someone can make it through one day without eating,
can they really make it through three days?
Can these people maintain their rational thinking?


I've never had the experience of reaching that level [of poverty],
I have a home and I have a job.
However, as long as there are people like this in Japan,
if the situation is not made better, children will suffer under this strain.

Another blogger draws a connection with the Constitution of Japan:


I think that if you are Japanese you realize that, in the Constitution of Japan, it was decided that:
“All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.”


However, net cafe refugees, who have become the topic of conversation recently, are clearly having [this right] violated, I think.
Having said that, this is not to say that the net cafe refugees are somehow bad, but rather that these people have to live like this is the fault of society, that is what I want to say.


The pitiful story of these net cafe refugees — [the story of] their life as well –
is also I feel misunderstood to a startling degree by society.
There are people who make an argument about self-responsibility: “These people choose that kind of life themselves, so it's their personal responsibility.” And there are people who don't understand the live-in [net cafe refugees] and say: “Wouldn't they be alright if they just get a live-in job?”
“They're not trying hard enough…” — these people believe the theory that if you work hard and have spirit, you can get over any problems.
And there are opinions of people who don't know anything about society as a whole, and so on.


In most cases, it is just these business-like views that are expressed.
This shows that those people don't understand anything about the situation [of net cafe refugees].


Even when the topic is covered on television, they don't show [the net cafe refugees] working.
What they show is many scenes of people at net cafes sleeping in front of the computer.
Just seeing that, people think: “These people aren't even working, they're always at the computer.”
This is such an outrageous mistake.

彼らは働いている。   それもかなりキツイ仕事をしている。

These people are working. And what's more, they are doing really hard work.

Finally, one blogger in Kobe went so far as to offer a place to stay for people sleeping in net cafes. At the “Net Cafe Refugee Relief Blog“, blogger Higeni writes:


I was surprised at the large number of net cafe refugees.
I'm the kind of person who feels that they have to help when they see someone in trouble.


Even if it doesn't go as far as providing relief, I've been wondering if there is any way to help.
[I named this] the “Net Cafe Refugee Relief Project”. A bit of an exaggeration? (LOL)


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