Saturday, 9 January 2010

day #13 in Japan, point 5

I'm still in my internet cafe booth. So far I've replied to a couple of emails, confirmed my continued existence on Facebook, researched some arbitrary things, gorged myself with complimentary confectionery, and attempted to top the lot off by sleeping (it's what we're here for, after all). Unfortunately, it isn't easy.

I'm not usually particularly fussy with sleep; so far on this trip I've slept in airports, airplanes, trains, kitchens, and even restaurants (and those are just the ones I remember). My sleeping "equipment" currently consists of whatever I happen to be wearing when I'm tired, a buff (multi-purpose tube of fabric) over my face to prevent any gormless sleep-photographs, and my "creatively acquired" Lufthansa blanket.

By the way: If you read the last post you'll notice I used the term "creatively acquired" there too. Contrary to (probably) common belief, it doesn't imply theft; rather taking something you wouldn't usually take, although it doesn't say anywhere that you aren't allowed to do so. The aforementioned blanket, for example, is comfortable, warm and lightweight, and nowhere on the flight did it say that they weren't to be removed from the aircraft.

End of disclaimer.

Anyway, I can't sleep here. Maybe it's the caffeine? Maybe it's the fact that the トイレ (toilet) is being cleaned and I REALLY need to go? Maybe it's the fact that there's a strong likelihood that some Japanese salarymen are beating off to hentai in the nearby booths?

Maybe it's all of the above.

but whatever it is, it isn't practical! I have 5 hours 24 minutes until I need to be out of this place, or I'm going to have to pay a semi-hefty fine. During that time I have to fall asleep (usually takes me around 20 minutes; it would be reduced because I'm tired but irritatingly, the environment has increased it beyond the normal amount), get up (alarm is set half an hour before we're supposed to get out), and go. Those figures give me 4 hours 34 minutes sleep maximum, and tomorrow is going to be even worse (same sleeping arrangements, but we have to make a flight in the morning so I'll be too paranoid to sleep probably).

The above, combined with potential delays flying caused by heavy snow at home, combined with backtracking across several timezones, is going to play havoc with my sleep pattern when I get home. I don't mind too much, it's one of the less enjoyable aspects of traveling I admit but you might as well experience the whole package. I'd rather pay ¥1,700 for a night of crap sleep and free ice cream in an internet cafe than >¥5,000 for a night of crap sleep and a free towel in a hotel, and anyway, I can employ my usual tactic for combating jet lag and spend 17 hours in bed when I get home.

I'm waffling now.

The point I intended to make with this post, the thesis statement if you will, is "how the fuck does this place make money?!". At a rough estimate, there are 60 booths here. Each has a respectable computer (I don't know any proper stats, but they have Windows XP and run fast), 2 sets of headphones (good ones), and a PS2 with 2 controllers. That's probably around £1,200 of equipment per booth, which gives £72,000 for all of them. On top of that is the 24 hour body of staff; I can see 6 staff members at a quick glance and although I don't know the minimum wage in Japan, it probably adds up. Add to that the DVD, manga and magazine library (manga are usually a minimum of £6 each, and there must be over 15,000 here? (my original estimate of 1,000 was shattered when I counted the shelves)), the free drinks (!) and ice cream (!!!), the internet access, and all other costs that I'm too tired / clueless to consider, combined with the more than reasonable rates, and that seems to me like a giant financial black hole.

Yet the Gran Cyber Cafe chain is spread across Tokyo like some kind of horrific disease. Each branch has mutated in its own special way, yet they all seem to be making enough money to spread even more (one down the road, for example, offers showers for ¥500/20 minutes, but being (poor) students, we chose free ice cream (!!!) over showers (a choice I feel any self-respecting person would also make).

It boggles my mind.

Even when I'm not in a tiredness induced vegetative state.

p.s. 3 hours 50 minutes to sleep now.

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