Japan's 'net cafe refugees'

by AFP, Aug 27, 2007 | Destinations: Japan

TOKYO, Aug 15, 2007 - Japan is launching its first study into so-called "Net cafe refugees," young people who live in all-night lounges and are feared to become a new class of working poor, an official said Wednesday.

Japan's omnipresent net cafes -- equipped with sofas, drinks, computers and comic books -- are designed for businessmen who want to slack off for a few hours or for commuters who missed their last trains home.

But Japan has been alarmed by growing reports of young day labourers who are staying in round-the-clock cafes rather than renting and living in apartments.

In the first nationwide study, the government is questioning operators and customers at 3,000 Internet cafes nationwide, said a labour ministry official in charge of employment security.

"Inquiries are being made in cooperation with non-profit organisations to find out their rough number and what their lives are like," said the official, who declined to be named.

A five-hour stay at an Internet cafe in Tokyo costs about 3,000 yen (25 dollars) with a meal served. Showers are available at 200 yen for 30 minutes and underwear is on sale.

The emergence of such "refugees" has set off alarm bells in a society which used to boast of equality but is now feared to be experiencing a wider rich-poor gap.

Sleeping in net cafes can be problematic "in terms of employment security, hygiene and development of job ability," said the labour ministry official.

Findings of the investigation are expected to be publicised later this year and used to hammer out assistance measures.

Japan's opposition, which won a landmark election victory last month, has accused the government of encouraging the rich-poor gap through free-market reforms meant to revive the economy after recession in the 1990s.

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