The first time I went to an internet cafe in Canada I was 15 or 16. I went with my cousins and some of their friends to basically play video games with all the computer hooked up onto a LAN network. It was Counter Strike. I was better than expected but a lot worse than the best people there. At the time I felt it was a great experience. Five bucks an hour got you a computer with unlimited usage. Sure it would’ve made a made a germaphobe scream, faint and need a hermetically sealed hamster ball just to make it out the front door, but I was a teenager and I didn’t care about a few extra germs here and there. The computers were okay and could handle a lot of the popular games people were interested in, but nothing graphic intensive.
I went to some internet cafes while I was in Europe. By and large they are much smaller, cleaner, rustic even, and intended just for internet surfing, email and printing documents. Not 12 hour gaming marathons or mobs of teenagers looking to murder each other in simulated warfare. Usually they take up small shops and meet very simple writing, surfing and communication needs. Gaming was not available and people probably never went to them for that sort of thing.
So fast-forward to now and there I was, stepping forth into a Japanese internet cafe. This is a completely different beast entirely. Where the cafes in Canada did have a lot of floor space and choice and the European ones I found were quaint and practical, the Japanese beasts are mythological sirens giving the technological equivalent of “come hither” with their eyes and a waggle of their fingers.
First of all, the building has two floors. The top floor is a regular cafe with couches, pool tables, dart boards, and some private rooms(I do not know what goes on here and I am NOT going to find out). The main floor has private computer alcoves, sleeping alcoves, couches, diner-style booth tables, and a significant library of naughty magazines, fashion magazines, and gaming magazines and all the lastest manga. And a drink bar.
So it’s a thing in Japan that a lot of restaurants use “drink bars” for regular drinks(pop, juice, coffee, tea, etc) particularly at all you can eat joints where the overworked staff is already fetching food. They give you a cup and you can go and run off and get drinks for yourselves. If you want to order alcohol, it’s a different matter and comes individually, but otherwise the “drink bar” is the norm for many places. At the internet cafe’s it’s the norm. I had my choice of soda, juice, cold tea or brew my own fresh tea, espresso machine coffee, slushies, and soup. It’s amazing. My response was something along the lines of “Unlimited slurpees? Swaggles!”
You can order a variety of Japanese cafe food(simple sammiches, curry and rice, katsu and rice, chicken wings, fried food from the depths of the ocean, different snack foods) and it’s brought directly to your alcove. For 320 yen I got a plate of fries with chicken nuggets and tacoyaki. Pretty damn good considering I’m also only playing 380 yen per hour.
And the internet? Glorious. Just glorious. Back in Canada it was a great day if the speed went as high as 1.5 mbit/s, and things would finish downloading overnight. But that little booth topped 12 mbit/s over wifi. I wasn’t even using a plugged in cable, this was over the bloody wifi. I must’ve downloaded 100+ gigs of data while I was there. Fan-freaking-tastic.
But things aren’t all sunshine and waffles in the land of amazing internet cafes. In the big cities it’s a fairly common occurrence for people to stay overnight at one if they’ve missed the last train. It has booths for sleeping and showers for the morning and it costs you a fraction of staying at a hotel. This is kind of odd, but as I’m getting used to Japan this sort of thing is becoming more normal for me. The weirder part is that some people just straight up live in these places. They basically rent an alcove every night, go to work during the day, order inexpensive food, and use the internet. They shower in the morning, use laundromats for their clothes and use luggage to carry their belongings and the lockers at the cafe to store their things.
Back home this would be a serious and terrible plague upon our youth. It would be pitchforks and torches and pistols at dawn over this unspeakable terror afflicting the best and brightest of this generation. But here? People seem to accept it alongside putting two prices for everything at the supermarket(before and after tax). Is it actually a problem? Is it weird? I’ve honestly no bloody idea. I’ve been seriously reevaluating everything I’ve thought was strange since I came here. Strange took an extended vacation from Japan a couple decades ago and it’s starting to look like it might be permanent.
Asking around has got a definitive: “Eyh?”, which is the Japanese equivalent of someone telling you there’s a guy in a trench coat standing behind the bushes at the bus stop every morning for a few hours: he hasn’t done anything wrong, but there is no way in hell that he’s not doing something wrong under that coat or afterwards with the curtains shut.