7 Things You Should Know About Manga Cafe

7 Things You Should Know About Manga Cafe

As a Japanese professional, I have often thought about manga, the distinctive style Japanese comic books and graphic novels, their popularity and cultural significance cannot be denied. From Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) to Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan), manga has reflected much about the post-war Japanese psyche and the society that created it.

For the foreign visitor, especially those ‘fans’ already acquainted with manga from translations in their own language, a visit to a manga cafe offers a potentially fascinating insight into neo-Japanese culture, and here are a few pointers to help you understand the phenomenon:



 

7 Things You Should Know About Manga Cafe

 

1. Why Manga Cafe?

The group consciousness is very important in Japanese culture, giving rise to a general preference for social conformity, but also a desire for a shared aesthetic. This is particularly true where such aestheticism forms the basis of a sub-cultural movement, parallel to the mainstream, like manga. Traditional literature is always a very subjective experience typically only shared in retrospect. Two people may be able to share reading a novel but, even if their reading speed was the same, they could not share the other’s unique vision or interpretation of the narrative. With Manga, creative imagination rests with the artist/writer alone, whilst appreciation is a matter for the ‘audience’. Thus it is not uncommon to see two, three, four or more boys huddled around a single comic book on the Tokyo Metro. It is this innate popularity that manga cafes seek to capitalise upon.

 

2. Home from Home

But manga cafes are not specifically aimed at the group experience, any more than internet cafes are. What they offer is a context, a familiar or comfortable environmental theme in which to relax. In fact, the distinction between internet cafes and manga cafes is moot, given that most manga cafes offer very similar services. Comfort is provided in a number of ways, depending on the scope of the establishment: reading seats, non-smoking areas, sofas and recliners, tatami mat areas and massage chairs may all be available for the weary student, business person or traveller. Many offer overnight stays.

 

3. Facilities

Obviously, manga cafes offer their patrons a selection of manga, much like a library, and a large manga cafe can have thousands of volumes. There is also usually complimentary internet access and refreshments, which vary considerably by venue, and many manga cafes have private booths and party rooms in addition to open cubicles. Manga cafes offer other kinds of media too, such as music CDs, DVDs and video games. Shower rooms, darts, magazines and newspapers, pool tables, table tennis, slot machines, mahjong, nail salons and tanning beds can all be found in one manga cafe or another.

 

4. The Cost

Patrons pay a nominal fee for facilities that average to around \400 per hour. Media Cafe Popeye, one of the better known manga cafe chains, is priced at \300 for the first 30 minutes, with \110 for every additional 15 minutes. Charges are higher at weekends and holidays. One interesting fact I have discovered, is that some budget travelers recommend manga cafes as one of the cheapest places to stay overnight in Japan. I have no experience of this myself, so you are on your own there!

 

5. We Were Young Once!

With all this pop culture on offer, you might think that manga cafes are only for the under thirties, or younger, but older business people too appreciate the environment they provide. This is no surprise really, for even the most conservative salary man (or woman) was a student once. Though they might not buy manga themselves any longer, they will often pick up and read discarded comic books on commuter trains. However, many establishments offer business facilities, including office software, printers, photocopiers etc., so that the busy company man (or woman) will always have a good excuse to spend time at a manga cafe!

 

6. Behavior

While on the subject, conservatism is quite common amongst purists, and manga maniacs are no exception. Whatever other services they may provide, expect many manga cafes to have library-style rules, so… shhhh! On the other hand, some have a more community atmosphere where discussion is valued. Some also offer lectures and drawing workshops for aspiring manga artists.

 

7. Recommendations

For the visitor to Tokyo, there is a confusing list of dozens of manga cafes to choose from and no clear cut database of what they all offer. My advice is to research travel sites thoroughly before your visit. However, there are two well known chains that you might like to try. I mentioned Media Cafe Popeye above, and they appear to have a very good reputation. You can find them in Shibuya, Shinjuku and Kichijoji, as well as other locations. Then there is GeraGera in Roppongi, Asakusa and Akihabara, and also other locations. But for a truly unique and entertaining manga cafe experience, you must try Nagomi Style Cafe in Akihabara. Styled after a traditional Kyoto style inn, it has easily the most beautiful manga cafe interior you will find at very reasonable prices. Staff members wear traditional costume while shamisen music plays softly in the background.

 

Conclusion

Manga cafes are not without their critics. The publishing industry sees it as unfair that a single manga can be read by a potentially large number of individuals without receiving royalties whilst manga cafe proprietors profit at the expense of manga distributors, and at least one manga cafe chain is seriously undercutting its rivals in providing e-mail and internet services. How seriously such claims should be taken is unclear, but it is likely that the manga cafe is a phenomenon that is here to stay in one form or another.

 

7 Things You Should Know About Manga Cafe

1. Why Manga Cafe?
2. Home from Home
3. Facilities
4. The Cost
5. We Were Young Once!
6. Behavior
7. Recommendations