Nick’s Nippon Notebook: At Midnight Your Ride Home Becomes A Pumpkin (Part 3)

Posted by Guest Author on Sep 15, 2008 in Fandom |

Nick's Nippon Notebook

In the past two articles I’ve been writing about staying out late night in Tokyo when trains and busses make their last run at midnight.

Part 3: Last month I went to a restaurant in Shibuya real late with a special friend. I think my friend thought I was staying in Shinjuku, which isn’t too far, but actually I couldn’t find a hotel there and settled for Edogawa, which is quite a ways East of the center of town, almost as far as Tokyo Disneyland. It was 2 subway transfers and about 40 minutes from Shibuya. Taxis run all night. A Shibuya to Shinjuku taxi might be $30 or so, but a Shibuya to Edogawa would surely cost a lot more than a night at a normal hotel room.

But I figured that I really wanted to see my friend and would maybe either crash at their place or hang out in Shibuya until around 5 AM for the morning trains. Anyway what I wasn’t going to do was leave in a rush and risk getting stuck somewhere unfamiliar because of all the transfers to get back.

So after the dinner I said my mock teary farewells a decided to find a Manga Kissa (sometimes spelled Mangakisa) to hang out at. These are somewhat buzzworthy and controversial establishments typically on upper floors of buildings where you basically pay a fairly reasonable hourly fee to read their manga library.


I heard a couple things in terms of pop culture buzz. One is that some manga publishers are displeased because the companies who run the manga kissas collect a fee for people to read a book that they might have bought. Then again DVD and even CD rental is widespread and okay. An interesting twist though is that certain movies have “not for rent” notices on the back and some but not all CDs have a not for rent before a specified date, usually 2 years after release.

Another thing I’ve heard that especially with the introduction of showers and lights that turn off at some manga kissas, it’s a more or less viable place to stay or live on very little money. I think because of this, while these places are more or less 24 hour establishments, like public baths, they seem clear the place out for about an hour in the morning. I’ve read pundits saying these places socially function as a place teens can go to test out living away from home. My gut feeling is that while that likely occurs, these places seem to have only been around a few years, so their social impact, whatever it is is pretty new. I guess parents would be glad to know that there’s no alcohol and probably no real drug availability. There is plenty of smoking though. As with most of Japan, while there is a non smoking section in most places, the tobacco does tend to waft into them. I’ve heard there’s a mantra for those who work at these places, “this is not a hotel”.

I wasn’t planing to hang out at one so I didn’t research where they were. I definitely remembered there was an internet cafe was located above the big HMV Music Shop called B@gus Gran Cyber Cafe. When I wanted to take a peek once I found the escalators stop at the bookstore that’s above the HMV. You could get there by elevator, but I wasn’t that curious before to take the ride. Anyway by 11 all that was closed and it was around 1 AM when I thought I should see if it was still there, open and an okay place to spend the night. Otherwise I’d have to walk around looking for evidence of another place I could go.

“Netto Cafes” in Japan are typically unlike those in the U.S. or Europe. I remember over 10 years ago I went to one that was the American sort of thing, but before they were popular in the U.S.. You know they sell coffee, pasteries and have a bunch of PCs set up on tables. A net cafe in Japan is a slight variation on the manga kissa. I guess in the net cafe you are mostly there for the internet but they have manga and at a manga kissa it’s the reverse to some extent.

Outside it was pretty quiet. But it was about 1:45 AM and not many would have any reason to come or go by then. I took the elevator up and arrived at a floor with everything in shades of dark grey and black with a hotel-like counter. They had a “Night Pack” rate for a quite reasonable $12 for 6 hours and a bit of English info so that seemed fine with me. Past the entrance I guess there were maybe 100 cubicles. The generally they gave me corporate vibes, like a workplace for the Star Wars Empire or something. Generally referred to as “pods” the workspace cubicles were done up in black rather than grays and beige of cubicles at real corporations. They had wood doors that were lighter weight and cubicle height. I paid for a “night pack” and the thought definitely occurred, “Here I am, a week off work, in Tokyo, and I’m paying to sit in an office cubicle. The chair though was a recliner, not an office chair. It seemed to be fixed to the floor though, so while it reclined and swivled it didn’t seem to go up or down or closer to the desk. As for the PC, I don’t have much trouble dealing with a Mac in Japanese, or Windows in English. But the Japanese Windows combo was a tough one for me to deal with.

Up front there were a number of shelves of manga and maybe 100 or so magazines. Surprisingly there weren’t a lot I really wanted to look at. I found a Casa Brutus, that was about it. I would have expected more media and technology magazines, what was there was very mainstream demographic. Looking around there weren’t any showers, not that I couldn’t use the one in my hotel in a few hours. The number of manga at first seemed really impressive but I discovered they were concentrated up front and the shelves didn’t continue after the several up front. What did impress me was they had self serve softserve ice cream. Considering on the street it’s about $2.50 or $3 one could probably eat as much as staying there costs. They also had beverage machines that didn’t need money as well as about a dozen pitchers of “healthy drinks” in a refrigerator. Milk, apple juice, something that might have been healthy but I suspect was more like a Strawberry Quik sort of thing. Next to the main desk there was a bunch of convenience shop style foods you could buy and microwave. I think you could buy work shirts and ties too. There were cubicles with a tatami mat sit on the floor setup. There were also cubicles with game systems. Looking on the floor map there were cubicles for women only and for couples that were in corners with less traffic. There were a pair of bigger rooms with a sofa and widescreen TV. I think the owner, Bagus, was in the billiards hall business. I notices some of their other locations combine net cafe and billiards hall facilities.

I managed at least one nap. It was kind of dark, slightly but not extremely smokey and not overly loud but not really quiet. Around 5 AM I noticed the softserve machine was either empty or broken, or maybe they had a quota for the night as it seemed very popular. The elaborate hot and cold beverage machines were still going. On the way out, past the theft detector there was a stack of magazines they were discarding. I picked up a slightly worn issue of the fashion magazine “Gothic and Lolita Bible” as a souvenir.

All in all it seemed an excellent value for delivering what place was, an internet cafe. It certainly beat walking around and eating very slowly at open all night places.

Nick Kent is a New York based artist who works with electronic media and is an occasional pop culture pundit.

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