When you’re in Japan, you often hear stories about people sleeping in internet cafes instead of hotels. The cafes are open 24 hours a day and provide private cubicles for people, so it’s an inexpensive way to get last-minute accommodations for a short bit of respite. It’s not a great option, but for those in desperate need of sleep, it’s a viable last resort.
Of course, you never want to be in a situation where you’re legitimately considering sleeping in one. For the cost, it’s typically possible to find a hostel that will providemore suitable nightly accommodations. When I did the JCMU Summer Intensive Language program in 2014, my friends and I often joked about sleeping in one to save money, but we never actually considered doing it while planning our excursions. Nighttime comfort is obviously sacrificed, as there is (at best) a small sofa or computer chair for you to attempt (and fail) to get shuteye in.
How do I know this? Because one of my friends and I had the unfortunate “pleasure” of shacking up in one during a series of unfortunate mishaps.
It began well planned enough. Three of my classmates and I wanted to travel to Hiroshima for an extended holiday weekend. Two of them decided to travel via shinkansen (bullet train) and arrived quickly after class on Friday, while my friend and I elected to take a far cheaper night bus as we were on a strict budget. It departed Kyoto late at night and arrived early in the morning, giving riders an opportunity to sleep the 6-8 hour bus ride away. The bus ticket was only about $35/person each way versus the $200/person shinkansen ticket, so we jumped for that in hopes of saving funds to use in Hiroshima itself. We read “22:20” as the departure time and instantly translated that into AM/PM time, so we made plans to arrive outside of Kyoto Station by no later than 10:50pm.
Unfortunately, the two mismatched times above are not typos, so I’m sure you can instantly imagine how this went wrong.
We arrived at Kyoto Station right “on time”, and made our way to the bus stop even a bit “early” (around 10:45pm or so). With our bus leaving at 11:20pm, we thought, we had made it with plenty of time to spare. At 11:05pm, a bus rolled up to the stop – however, it stated it was heading to Tokyo, not Hiroshima. “Ours must be the next one,” we thought, but the next bus at 11:20pm also listed Tokyo as its destination. Concerned, we asked the bus stop attendant about when our bus would arrive. She looked at our ticket and regretted to inform us that we long missed our ride. “No way,” we thought, “our bus was scheduled to leave at 22:20, which translates to 11-…”
It was then we collectively realized our mistake. “…10:20pm…”
The attendant, clearly sympathetic, scrambled to try and find a solution for us. “The bus is scheduled to stop in Kobe around 12:50am, and if you get on the very next express train there you should be able to catch them!” She handed us a map of the Kobe bus stop area, then we were off to the races.
Fortunately, we were able to get on a Kobe-bound express train almost immediately, and made it with around 30 minutes to spare. Unfortunately, we realized all too late that the map we were handed made no gosh darn sense. After 10 minutes of complete confusion trying to locate the bus stop, we asked a couple of really nice locals for help. They were amazing and stayed with us as we collectively had zero clue where the map was pointing us to. After 20 more minutes of frantic searching, it was 12:50am with no bus in sight. Another 5 minutes, and we resigned ourselves to the fact that us being on this bus was not meant to be.
We had no clue what to do at this point. We couldn’t travel back to Hikone, as it was too late in the evening to make it back before the trains would stop service for the night. We didn’t have enough money for a hotel – I mean, that was why we elected to take a night bus instead of the shinkansen. The two kind locals, still helping us through all of our mishaps, pointed us in the direction of a local cheap internet cafe.
They walked in, explained the situation to the front desk worker, then discussed with us what would be happening. We would pay 2000 yen total to have a small cubicle room for 4 hours. The room somehow squeezed in a small 2-person couch, along with a desktop computer that was clearly from another century. The internet loaded hilariously slow for it being an internet cafe, but we had no internet before (neither of our phones worked internationally), so we were just happy to be in a place where we could figure out our next steps before getting a few hours of shuteye.
Man I wish it worked out that smoothly. We planned out the next day well enough: we let the other two already in Hiroshima know what had happened, and looked through how to get to Hiroshima the following day cheaply. We decided that we would take local trains the entire way from Kobe, starting with the first morning train leaving Kobe Station at 5:15am. It would be a 6 hour trip with 4 transfers – not exactly a fun itinerary, but we were already strapped for money having to pay for these unexpected misadventures.
After that, we laid against each other’s heads on the tiny couch, and tried to get enough sleep to power us through the next day of travel.
But I just.
Sure, my friend was able to sleep a tad. But I just sat there and gazed at my surroundings for the entirety of our remaining 3.5 hours at the internet cafe. I noticed that the place had all of the “newest” video games for us to play if we wanted (assuming you consider PlayStation 2 as a new system in 2014, at least). They had some of the weirdest DVDs that I can only assume came from the Japanese equivalent of the Dollar General. The snoring all around me from other patrons pervaded the air, forming an ensemble of noise that assaulted my senses whenever I tried to relax even just a little. It was a truly awful experience.
When our 4 hours were nearly up, I lightly tapped on my friend’s shoulder to wake her up. My brain painted her “Good morning” as bragging about being able to get some sleep in, but it was surely just jealousy on my part. As we checked out, I remembered our plan to take 6 hours of local trains all the way to Hiroshima. With a whopping 0 hours of sleep under my belt, I couldn’t help but wonder if my body was going to make it through the journey.
We did eventually make it to Hiroshima, where our 2 classmates already there were excited to take us around the city. Though looking back I loved our Hiroshima okonomiyaki lunch and our evening stroll along the beach at Miyajima that day, at the time I was genuinely most excited for a quiet night utilizing our hostel’s bare bones sleeping accommodations.
Before this trip, I frequently joked about sleeping in internet cafes. Afterwards though, even the most casual mention of them brought me back to one of the longest days of my life. From that point on, I was extra careful with all of the travel plans I made, quadruple-checking departure times, having another set of eyes look at everything to make sure all looked good, and even having an alternative last resort plan (that didn’t involve internet cafes) should all else fall through. No matter what, I made sure that internet cafes would never be a part of my travel experience ever again.
I look back on the whole thing with a certain level of masochistic fondness now. It was definitely a unique and memorable experience, at least! However, I wouldn’t wish a night at an internet cafe on even my greatest of enemies. That would just be too cruel.