Japanese Internet Cafes - A Cheap Travel Hack? How to Use Them and Why You Should
Internet cafes in Japan began as a place where people could get online in the years before access to the World Wide Web became widespread. Though the proliferation of home broadband services and smartphones have resulted in the internet cafe’s decline in many other countries, they are still a fairly common sight in Japan’s larger cities. In this article, we cover why they’re still popular and how you can use them as a way to save on travel costs when you’re sightseeing in Japan.
May 12 2023
What Are Japanese Internet Cafes?
Internet cafes, also known as cyber cafes or net cafes, are typically places where for a fee, you get to rent a desk and computer to do work, browse the internet, or play games.
But internet cafes in Japan are more than just a place where you can spend an hour or two online. In fact, some even say they have more in common with hostels or capsule hotels!
You’ll need reservations while in Japan. See our writers’ top picks!
Can You Sleep in Internet Cafes in Japan?
Japanese internet cafes have a range of different options available for rent, from a single desk in an open area to your very own private room with a lock and key. These private rooms are typically equipped with a desk, computer, reclining chair or mattress, and other amenities such as a lamp and plug sockets.
Most internet cafes in Japan also have showers, washing machines, and dryers that can be used at an additional cost. Typical hotel amenities such as toothbrushes, razors, and socks can often be bought from the front desk. You can even order hot meals at very affordable prices which the staff usually deliver right to your room, just like room service at hotels.
Unlike many hostels and capsule hotels, Japanese internet cafes are normally open 24 hours a day. This makes it extremely easy to book a room whenever you want for any number of hours, from as little as half an hour up to as much as 12 hours, and in many cases even longer.
All of these factors make internet cafes in Japan a super convenient option for an overnight stay or two. In fact, it is very common for locals to check in to an internet cafe if they’ve been out late at night and have missed the last train home. They’re a safe and cheap way to get a few hours of sleep.
Net Cafe Refugees in Japan Use Internet Cafes as a Home
Japanese internet cafes can be so cheap to rent that it has become somewhat common for people to use them as a semi-permanent place of residence. The people who do this are labeled as “net cafe refugees,” and it’s been estimated that in Tokyo, up to 4,000 people use internet cafes as a place to stay every night.
Renting an apartment in Japan can be incredibly expensive as it involves paying a number of costs up front. Those without the stability of a regular income find it much cheaper to pay for a room at an internet cafe on a nightly basis. Japanese internet cafes are also a prime choice of accommodation for workers whose primary residences are very far away from their workplace.
This became a problem during the peak of the pandemic, as many internet cafes in Japan were forced to close in order to try and minimize the spread of COVID-19. Though Japanese internet cafes are now back in business, it is still hard to fully grasp the impact the closure had on net cafe refugees.
Staying Overnight at a Japanese Internet Cafe as a Travel Hack
Internet cafes in Japan are cheap enough to bring about the existence of net cafe refugees, meaning they can be a great accommodation option for the thrifty traveler. While they may not be the perfect option for a week-long stay, Japanese internet cafes are great if you need an affordable or sudden place to stay for a night, or even just for a few hours.
Have a late flight out of Japan and need a few extra hours’ sleep after you’ve checked out of your hotel? Your flight arrives in Japan at the crack of dawn and you need somewhere to rest before you can check in to your hotel? Book an internet cafe in Japan and catch up on some much needed sleep.
What Else Is Done at Japanese Internet Cafes?
Besides accessing the web or sleeping, there are many other activities that can be done at internet cafes in Japan.
Businessmen in Japan regularly use a booth in internet cafes as a remote office. Compared to co-working spaces, Japanese internet cafes are often cheaper as you can rent by the hour and the membership fee is a one-time payment of just a few hundred yen. They also offer more privacy than a regular family restaurant or cafe.
Internet cafes in Japan are also frequented by those looking to pass time. Many have an extensive range of films and comic books available to peruse. The larger internet cafes also often have separate areas that feature karaoke rooms and communal rooms equipped with billiards, darts, and other forms of entertainment.
What Is the Actual Price for Using Japanese Internet Cafes?
The cost of using an internet cafe in Japan varies depending on the type of space you wish to rent, the amount of time you wish to use it for, when you want to visit, where the store is located, etc.
Prices at Japanese internet cafes are typically listed in time segments: half an hour, one hour, three hours, and so on. They tend to be higher on weekends and public holidays, as well as at stores located in the most popular areas of larger cities, such as Shinjuku or Shibuya in Tokyo.
Just like many other types of businesses in Japan, internet cafes often run promotions, so if you come at the right time, you may be able to grab a desk or room at a discounted price. The rate per hour also decreases if you book by package - two, four, six, or more hours at a time.
Also, this was briefly mentioned prior, but not everything is included in the base price. If you want to use certain services like the shower rooms, you may have to pay an extra fee.
Cons of Using Japanese Internet Cafes
With all of the advantages associated with internet cafes in Japan, you might start wondering if there are any downsides. Unfortunately, yes, there are.
Even in the larger private rooms, space is at a premium, meaning that it is difficult to get completely comfortable. The small size of the rooms also means that there’s not anywhere you can store any kind of luggage larger than a backpack without sacrificing sleeping space.
Most internet cafes also don’t let you turn the lights off, and there is often a lot of noise from other guests coming and going in the corridors. If you’re a light sleeper, you might find it impossible to nod off in such a situation.
Lastly, watch out for internet cafes with private rooms whose walls don’t go all the way up to the ceiling. Occasionally, people will report finding others peeking at them from above. If you’re female, you can reduce the chance of this occurring by keeping your shoes out of sight, ideally inside the room with you instead of out by the corridor. Some internet cafes also have sections only for women.
How to Use Japanese Internet Cafes
While the process will obviously differ depending on the store, for most internet cafes in Japan, you’ll need to first sign up as a member. This is a pretty straightforward process that usually requires filling out a registration form and showing a photo ID, such as a passport. There is usually a small fee to pay as well. After the registration process, you’ll get a member’s card that you can use as many times as you want in the future.
Once registered, you can select which type of seat that you would like to reserve, from a public open seat to a private room, and choose how long you would like to reserve it for. For future visits, many of Japan’s larger internet cafe chains have their own smartphone apps where you can book a seat in advance.
You pay for the total amount of time spent at the internet cafe at the end of your stay as you check out, along with any additional costs you may have accrued. Note, however, that some Japanese internet cafes do require payment upfront at check-in.
Where to Find Japanese Internet Cafes?
You’ll typically find internet cafes in Japan’s large cities, though smaller towns may have a few as well. They are commonly found inside large commercial buildings, quite often close to major train stations.
While we can’t list all of them, here are some of the most popular Japanese internet cafe chains in the Tokyo area. Some of them have branches in other cities across Japan, so if you’re not sure where to start, check them out!
Kaikatsu Club: All Kinds of Entertainment Provided Across Japan
Kaikatsu Club is one of the largest Japanese internet cafe chains, with over 400 stores nationwide. Each store offers a range of seats, including private rooms that can be locked. Some Kaikatsu Club internet cafes also have areas where you can play pool tables and darts. Plus, alongside free soft drinks, at Kaikatsu Club, you can also help yourself to free soft-serve ice cream! There are several branches of Kaikatsu Club in Tokyo, including three in Shinjuku and two in Ikebukuro, showing just how strong of a fanbase they have in Japan’s capital city.
You’ll need reservations while in Japan. See our writers’ top picks!
Jiyu Kukan: Enjoy Your Overnight Stay in a Multitude of Ways
Jiyu Kukan is another popular chain of internet cafes in Japan that offers much more besides getting online. What makes Jiyu Kukan stand out is that some of their stores have karaoke rooms! There are also several branches that have female-only areas, with dedicated rooms and communal spaces solely for the use of female guests. In Tokyo, there are branches of Jiyu Kukan everywhere, but two popular spots are in Harajuku and Ikebukuro.
Hailey’5 Cafe: Perfect for a Luxurious Japanese Internet Cafe Stay
As it is aimed at a slightly more mature audience, visitors to this Japanese internet cafe have to be over 18 years old. Open 24 hours a day and offering stays of up to 12 hours, Hailey’5 Cafe feels very much as though it could pass for a real alternative to a hotel or a hostel. There are no shared seating options, with each branch offering a range of private rooms, all of which come with air conditioning and adjustable lighting. There are also a range of party rooms and theater rooms designed for watching films in style. Hailey’5 Cafe has two branches in Shibuya, as well as in Ueno and Ikebukuro.
Gran Cyber Bagus: Party Overnight With Friends
Gran Cyber Bagus is another chain of internet cafes in Japan that is predominantly aimed at a slightly more mature audience. As one of the more high-end Japanese internet cafe chains, it offers a wide range of upscale private rooms which feature a slightly more sophisticated decor and incredibly comfy seats, including massage chairs! Gran Cyber Bagus also offers a host of additional services, including separate areas with darts and pool tables, console game rentals, and rooms big enough for a small party of 3-4 people. In Tokyo, you’ll find Gran Cyber Bagus in popular hangout spots like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Takadanobaba.
Internet Cafes: A Unique and Unforgettable Way Experience in Japan
Internet cafes are certainly an unusual choice of accommodation for anyone traveling in Japan. Yet staying at an internet cafe could be the perfect travel hack. Whether you’re looking to save a little money on accommodation or explore a different side of life in Japan, be sure to check out Japan’s internet cafes!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.