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Jonosuke

Fire at Private Room Video Store in Osaka

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Tragic events happen everywhere any time to anyone but with a bit of caution and checking on your part, you could avoid being a fatal victim.

Such was the case in a fire that took the lives of 15 people in Osaka's Nanpa area on October 1. The fire was started by an unemployed 46 year old man in a store called "Shishya-shitsu (Screening Room) Cats Nanpa" on the first floor of seven story building. The man apparently started the fire by lighting up tissues and his bag while staying in one of the rooms. He was apprehended later on trying to go back to the burning store wearing only his underwear possibly trying to take his bag out of the room for fear of being identified as the culprit.

You may be wondering why I am posting a fire story here. Well there is a reason because you may one day be staying in one of these stores while in Japan. This "Cats Nanpa" store is an extension of Internet Cafe we may go one time or another.

In Japan one of the recent social phenomena is an increasing number of working poor with more people working as temporary or part-time workers with minimum or extremely low wage. One of the prerequisite of having a good paying job is obviously experience and education. Another is having a permanent address. But in metropolitan areas if one is what they called "Haken" (contract) worker, they won't make enough to eat and afford an apartment of their own as well as pay for all other things. So what some are doing is sleeping in an Internet Cafe which is open 24 hours a day and after midnight, the rate becomes extremely affordable.

As well in most places, commuter trains stop running sometime after midnight. As taxis charge a premium after 11 PM or so and a night at hotel can become considerably more than simply "sleeping" at an Internet Cafe.

Now getting back to this Screening Room Cats, it's one step ahead of a typical Internet Cafe. This particular place had 32 private rooms, each room can be locked from inside. Inside there is a sofa, TV, DVD player in a size of two square meter. In the lobby they have a selection of DVD movies (mostly adult oriented). To watch a movie or TV, the guest is expected to use a headphone. They charge 1,500 Yen from 11 PM to the following morning (10 AM). Definitely cheaper than staying in a hotel or going home by taxi. In the bathroom they have shower stalls as well. No bed but one can sleep on a reclining leather chair or sofa.

At the time of the fire (2:55 AM), there were 26 male customers and three employees in the store. Almost all customers were believed to have been sleeping and those who could not get out in time were all in the back of the store as they only had one narrow corridor and one exit. All who died were from carbon monoxide poising as one fireman said when he went into the store, he could not even see anything beyond 30 cm because of thick smoke.

According to one person who escaped there was no alarm and he had to crawl out of pitch black corridor as no employee assisted in escaping. The fire department officials said there was no indication of anyone using a fire extinguisher.

So why am I bringing up this story here? Because in Japan there are many stores and restaurants, often on a high floor of 6 or 7 story high narrow buildings. And more than likely there will be only one exit - possibly by escalator or stairs. If you ever need to go into these places, make sure to check where the exits are or even try not to go way back in the place as you have more to get out in a case of emergency in a unfamiliar place.

This time it was on the ground floor of building but 15 people could not get out because they were sleeping or didn't realize any commotion outside because they had a headphone on. And all the people could not get out were in the back of the store as the fire was started in the center of the store.

It's really silly to lose one's life because all they could afford was 1,500 Yen for a night but it could have happen anywhere too. But it's not really cool to be found dead in a place full of adult DVDs either. So know where you are all the time.

And here ends today's sermon.

Edited by Jonosuke

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Such was the case in a fire that took the lives of 15 people in Osaka's Nanpa area on October 1.

Is this a Freudian slip given teh adult connections of the venue? It's the Namba area, isn't it?

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These places existed only because they exploit loopholes in the laws that govern places like hotels and ryokan. They don't have to have adequate excape facilities because they don't have a bed, but a reclining chair. They don't have a blanket, they have a "lap cover". These are not lodging accomodations, they are places with chairs that are more comfortable than many beds that clever people have figured out how to sleep in, "lap covers" that clever people can adapt for use as blankets, and showers because people watching the videos may not grab their tissues in time, that clever people have realized can make them look fresh as a daisy in the morning.

Of course, I'm being sarcastic. They are really the cheapest form of accomodation, with only flimsy explanations saying otherwise to make them that way. The typical Japanese way to solve societies needs...until one screwball exposes the system for the folly that it is, at the expense of the life and health of dozens of people.

Anyway, now that a light has been shined on the darkness, the government will be forced to close this loophole, and ultimately the 24-hour internet cafe/video room will either become a thing of the past, or become significantly more expensive than it is today.

Edited by Peterao

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But quite apart from whether they are used as lodgings or not, I would think that there are probably minimum fire safety conditions that need to be followed. Admittedly these kinds of places may not be held to the same standards as hotels and other accommodation, but given their occupancy rates I would think that they would have to adhere to the same standards (which I'm assuming exist) as karaoke boxes. I wonder if there is a loophole in this law as well, or whether the place was flouting these rules?

I've spent time in these kinds of places, although I've only ever stayed the night in one once. It was late, I was in an area of town I didn't know and I couldn't be bothered heading across town to a place where I knew I could stay. It wasn't too bad, although the booths were not ideal for a gaijin frame with a backpack. Also, I didn't find it particularly pleasant because of the noise of people moving around and because of the smoking and non-smoking sections being in the same room (as they always seem to be in Japan, because smoke can read and knows where to stop). However, at a pinch it was a cost-effective evening spent checking my emails, watching some TV and getting a few hours sleep. Came with an all-you-can-drink soda bar as well.

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