/

Tokyo’s internet cafe ‘refugees’ number 4,000, survey says

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

A Tokyo Metropolitan Government survey released last week shows that there are an estimated 4,000 “internet cafe refugees” who choose to spend their nights at such facilities because they don’t have a stable residence.

The survey, conducted from November 2016 to January 2017, targeted 502 internet and manga cafes in Tokyo that are open 24 hours a day and 946 of their customers. Valid answers were provided by 222 cafes.

Based on the results, released last Friday, the metropolitan government estimates about 15,000 people stay at such cafes daily during the week and some 4,000 of them are homeless. About 3,000 are said to not have stable jobs either, the estimate showed.

The results said 37.1 percent of all overnight customers were using internet cafes in the capital as a hotel substitute for business or personal travel. On the other hand, 25.8 percent confirmed that they did not have a stable residence and were using the cafes as a housing option.

The survey also found that, of 363 people who confirmed they were temporary workers and did not have a stable residence, over 90 percent were using a number of different options for shelter, including fast food restaurants, or just slept in the streets.

The survey defined temporary workers as those without stable jobs. This included contract and part-time employees.

Although the period of homelessness varied, 17.6 percent said they had moved out of their previous residence one to three months earlier and 11.0 percent said they had not had a residence for over 10 years.

Close to a third of those lacking stable residences said the primary reason they lost their home was an inability to pay rent due to job losses.

Respondents also claimed that the biggest obstacle to renting a room was the high initial cost, as well as a lack of stable income to pay rent over the long term.

By age, the bulk of internet cafe refugees appear to be older adults, with 38.6 percent in their 30s and 28.9 percent in their 50s.

Hiroyo Watabe, a spokesperson for the metropolitan government, explained that the high ratio of people in their 30s may reflect the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, while the large share of people in their 50s might simply reflect that people in that demographic have a tougher time finding work.

Ren Ohnishi, chairperson of the Moyai Support Centre for Independent Living, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization, explained that people with no stable residence or income tend to fall between the cracks of government support.

“They don’t earn enough to get a place to live … but they don’t qualify for welfare benefits because they do have an income,” he said, adding that he would presume there are more than 4,000 people without stable income or housing in the city.

He said that “more needs to be done on a higher policy level to provide the support these people need.”

Watabe said the survey was just the start of an effort to grasp what “the status quo” is.

“We will be analyzing the results and using this for future policies to make sure that the people in need get the support that they need,” she said.

The last major survey on internet cafe refugees was conducted by the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry in 2007 and estimated that about 5,400 people nationally had no stable residence.

CORRECTION: The original article should have said that an estimated 4,000 homeless people are finding shelter in 24-hour internet and manga cafes in Tokyo per day, not 3,000. About 3,000 of them are believed not to have stable jobs.