TOKYO: Thousands of homeless “net café refugees” in Japan risk being turfed out onto the streets as the coronavirus pandemic forces the sudden closure of their uniquely Japanese 24/7 comic book havens.
The ubiquitous all-night internet and manga (comic book) cafés offer couches, computers, comics, soft drinks and shower facilities for an overnight stay typically priced around 2,000 yen ($18).
An estimated 4,000 people down on their luck make their home in such cafés in Tokyo alone, and activists worry that shutting them down could lead to suicides and a spike in rough sleepers.
Some local authorities are now opening shelters to accommodate net café refugees and keep them from sleeping out in the open.
One 58-year-old occasional construction-site worker told the Agence France-Presse his main aim was “avoiding getting wet,” as he found a roof over his head at a shelter converted from a martial arts center in Yokohama near Tokyo.
“I thought of sleeping on a bench at a train station… or subway stairs going underground,” said the gray-haired man, who declined to give his name.
His net café informed him at the weekend it would be closing because of state of emergency measures in Japan to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“I used to go to work from net cafés… now I sometimes have a job, sometimes not, due to the coronavirus,” he said, adding that it was nearly impossible to find a permanent job at his age.
Renting an apartment in Japan requires a very expensive deposit and presents tricky administrative hurdles, leaving net cafes a convenient option for many of the country’s hidden poor. “I have nowhere to go to, few acquaintances,” said the man.
The temporary shelters at the judo hall in Yokohama, operated by the local Kanagawa authorities, have been designed by a team led by award-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban to offer privacy and prevent infections.