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Over 5,000 people in Japan spend their nights at 24-hour Internet cafes every night, according to the first, but certainly not the last, survey on so-called Net cafe refugees by the labor and welfare ministry. On one hand, it seems that school refusers were first, then job refusers, now “home refusers,” so that there may not be much left in Japanese society for young people to refuse. Yet, it is really equal parts refusing and being refused. The survey revealed disturbing problems in the social conditions that determine psychological attitudes toward work and housing.

These Net cafe residents are probably better off than most of the 1 billion people surviving in temporary, insecure or unstable housing worldwide, as estimated by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights last spring. Certainly, they are safer than the 100 million completely homeless the Commission estimates sleep without any shelter at all every night. Cafe amenities like running water and regulated temperature may seem luxuries compared to sleeping in a stairwell, park or abandoned building; still, the lack of housing alternatives is shameful amid large-scale building and renewal. Perhaps only in Japan could there be online homeless, but they are homeless nonetheless.

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