Tuesday, July 04, 2006

God Bless The Freaks

In April 2005 you may remember that An Englishman in Nyu Gun went through a bit of a crisis - ie. the school internet server started blocking all blogspot websites. This was a major problem, since, believe it or not, I don't own a computer of my own (and never have done actually. One day though, one day...). Thanks to some enlightened advice from various people we found a way for me to continue posting from the school computer, but if I wanted to have a look at other people's blogs, or change the settings or links on my blog, I'd have to go to an internet cafe - which is when my love affair with Freaks started. And no, I didn't start dating a bearded lady.
Freaks is an internet cafe chain which operates mostly in the Hokuriku region, but it's nothing like internet cafes back home. Back in the UK internet cafes are typified by rows and rows of identical computers, populated mostly by backpackers and students frantically checking their emails in the shortest time they possibly can. Patrons are usually jammed shoulder to shoulder, and the "cafe" part of the name usually just refers to the fact that there's a jug of coffee filter sat on the reception desk.
Freaks is different. Like many other Japanese internet cafes, it's designed more as a home from home: somewhere the average office worker can come to relax for a few hours before going home to bed, ready to face the grind of another day. The biggest (and best) difference is that the computers are placed in private booths, each with their own sliding door, so that once you put on the headphones provided you can quite easily forget that there are hundreds of other people in the booths next to you. Indeed, it's usually so quiet that you'd never know anyone else was there.
Freaks is primarily set up for online roleplay gaming, which is massively popular here, but there are all sorts of booth configurations on offer. As well as the normal and highspec PC booths, you can have ones with Playstation 2s or widescreen TVs with DVD players (there's a huge range of games and DVDs to borrow), ones with electric massage chairs, ones with tatami matting instead of chairs, and you can even hire a room with a sofa and space for eight people to try a bit of multiplayer gaming with your mates.
Did I mention there's a free comic book library too? And a free drink bar? You can even get free ice cream at some of the branches... Plus you can order food to be delivered to your booth without even leaving your seat. Another perk is that because they're open 24 hours they can double up as a last-minute hotel for the traveller who has missed his/her last train - they even have disposable toothbrushes in the toilets. And the price? Just 400 yen an hour - that's about 2 quid. Bargain.
I usually try and visit about once a week to catch up with everyone's blogs and make a few modifications to my own, and it's so cosy and relaxing that I can easily end up staying for 3 hours, happily wasting away my time in my little booth. Going back to internet cafes in the UK is going to be a real shock: Ah, my Freaks, I miss you already!


Blogger Richard said...

I stumbled across a similar place in Shinjuku, when I needed to check my email and ended up on the fourth floor of a random building, above a shop that sold Scuba gear. The young lad behind the counter asked if I wanted a 'special booth', so after double-checking what kind of establishment I was in, I hesistantly said yes.

I ended up in just the same kind of cubicle as your photo, except with the widescreen TV, PS2, DVD player, safe (?) and footstool. And you're right, the only way you know other people are there is the wafting smoke that drifts overhead. Thanks for bringing that all back to me, I'd forgotten...!

9:00 pm  

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