Internet cafes dot the Japanese urban landscape and offer a moment of pause for regular folks. Ditto for criminals.
Sure, internet cafes in Japan have game consoles and DVD players, but they also have showers and private rooms with big reclining chairs for customers to crash on. One chain called "Manboo" even has a nail salon. They're so great, you wonder why people don't just go ahead and live in them. They do.
There are even words in Japanese to describe those who live in internet cafes: "net cafe nanmin" (literally, "net cafe refugee") and "cyber-homeless". Many cafes charge around the equivalent of US$20 a night, including free online, manga, DVD, TV and fizzy drinks.
"Net cafes, which are open to anyone at low cost, have been the place where people who were hard up could muddle along until they found a job and made some money," Hitomi Nishimura, a writer covering the homeless situation, tells Japan Today. And internet cafes traditionally do not require forms of identification when checking in; however, that is changing.
The anonymity makes them attractive not just to salarymen hoping to catch some extra zzz's or read their favorite manga in peace, but also for those on the lam. Take Tatsuya Ichihashi, who is charged with killing a 22-year-old British woman in Chiba, Japan in 2007. Ichihashi fled to the Kansai region of Western Japan, living in net cafes.
Or the 30 year-old woman who delivered her son in a net cafe restroom, then left it for dead in a plastic bag in the sink as she returned to her booth and resumed reading a comic book. When a cleaner found the baby, it was no longer breathing, but the child was miraculously revived.
Or the internet cafe employee who was stabbed this week in Tokyo's Kabukicho. The 40-something year-old attacker apparently showed up at the cafe and demanded to be let in, reports Japan Today. When the 26-year-old net cafe staffer let him in, he was stabbed in the back. The attacker then fled.
Or the 35-year-old unemployed man who robbed one internet cafe with a knife after not having anything to eat for two days. He was later arrested at another net cafe in Tokyo.
Or the 17-year-old teen who beheaded his mother and then went to a net cafe to watch DVDS — bringing his mother's head in a bag. Before going to the internet cafe, he put his mother's arm in a flower pot.
Japan's Cyber Cops are attempting to crack down on net cafes by forcing them to ask for ID in hopes of curbing online crime. There is debate about how much cyber crime originates from net cafes. According to the police's own data, it's quite low. However, police arrest a 37-year old internet cafe manager in Chiba for downloading 25,000 movies and songs via a peer-to-peer server. the recent leaked video of the Japan-China ship collision was uploaded from a net cafe in Kobe.
The crime rate in Japan is low — among the lowest in the world. And net cafes have traditionally been just as safe. But with more and more high profile crimes emitting from them and high profile criminals inhabiting them, they will be regulated more and more. So for now, those looking for a quick nap, manga reading or some net surfing, might want to head elsewhere. But where?
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