If there's one thing you are likely to come across almost ad nauseam in Japan, it is Alex Kerr-esque laments over the withering away of traditional Japanese communities — of festivals with centuries-old traditions on the brink of extinction, emptied-out rural villages, traditional houses turned to rack and ruin.

Yet if I want to make myself all misty-eyed with nostalgia about a vanished world of "community," then I would be writing not about that, but of things that arose and vanished in the bat of a historical eye and are never even mentioned today. It was those things that provided me with a greater vista of diverse, authentic human life in Japan than anything else I have ever encountered.

I'm thinking of places like the netto kafe (internet cafe), which, for those under the age of 25, was a place that, before the advent of smartphones 10 years ago, people used to drop into to check their email and surf the web. The particular internet cafe I used to frequent in south Osaka in the early 2000s brought together one of the most fascinating, eclectic set of punters I have ever encountered.