In Japan, internet cafes or manga cafes haven’t only been places where people got to surf the internet and read comics. Due to their low prices, they have become homes for some.
Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, these establishments are temporarily shuttered in major Japanese cities. According to AP, around 4,000 people live in Tokyo internet and manga cafes. Their closure puts these residents out on the street.
Back in 2004, I first wrote about manga kissa (manga cafes) for Wired Magazine. These were not originally designed as residences, but for places to crash after the trains stopped running or a spot to relax and read manga. But since they offer showers, a place to crash, free soft drinks, internet and endless manga, they have become homes for low-income people in major cities throughout Japan. As AP explains, they cost about 2,000 yen ($18.60) a night.
That works out to around 60,000 yen ($558), which might be more than the cheapest apartment rents in Tokyo. But considering how it includes extras like internet and free soft drinks, living in an internet cafe or manga kissa might be a better deal than a typical apartment. Plus, renters often need to pay a large down payment and need someone to vouch for them before they can even move in.
For example, the net cafe resident in the above photo makes 100,000 yen ($931) a month. He’s been living in a net cafe for two months.
Here is another net cafe resident who was asked where his home was. He replied, “I don’t have a home.” He has been living in a net cafe for around six to seven years.
He also does not currently have a job, he said. (Previously, he worked at a mahjong parlor.)
But with the pandemic, these establishments are especially at risk, with people in close quarters and not separated by proper distances. In the image below, you can see how close the rooms are at a net cafe.
“I used to go to work from net cafes... now I sometimes have a job, sometimes not, due to the coronavirus,” a 58-year-old man told AP. “I have nowhere to go to, few acquaintances.”
To help house the displaced net cafe refugees, as well as the homeless, free shelters are being established, but so far, there are not enough places to take in the estimated 2,000 homeless and another 4,000 net cafe refugees in Tokyo alone.
If they end up on the street in Tokyo, some might venture to small cities instead. Tsuyoshi Inaba, an advocate for the homeless, tells AP, “Some people could move to provincial cities despite the possibility that they may have the virus.”