Tokyo isn’t a cheap place to stay. I imagine this doesn’t come as shocking news. Budget options are few and far between. For those who don’t want to stay in a musty, threadbare dump of a hotel, cheaper options are limited. Earlier in our trip, you’ll remember, we spent a few nights in a capsule hotel, where you pay only a relatively small amount of money to get a bed in a small capsule for the night.
But for those who really want to save pennies, there is another option. For a mere 3,000 yen – around £15 – you can take a place for the whole night in a manga internet cafe.
I’m sure the concept of an overnight internet cafe evolved rather organically. Internet cafes, also supplying customers with libraries of the famous Japanese manga comics (hence the ‘manga’ part of the name), provide computers in small booths complete with lockable doors and comfortable chairs. I’m sure young people in this ultra-practical country soon realized it was cheaper to rent a booth for the night in a cafe than it was to rent a room for the night in a hotel. Thus developed the concept of the manga cafe.
Manga cafes have since evolved to fill the role more fully. Accepting that they are essentially now lodgings above all else, they offer their guests showers and wash rooms as well as unlimited free coffee.
The computers offer high speed internet and vast, TV sized monitors. The booths are equipped with a lockable safe and a very comfortable and horizontally reclining big arm chair.
It’s also quiet. Creepily so, considering there are dozens of these tiny booths crammed together in a style not dissimilar to a large office. Any noise is eagerly discouraged, and there is a strict ‘no noise’ rule after 11pm. With no sound other than the gentle humming of computers, the occasional clicking of a mouse or the softest patter of slippered feet heading to the comic book shelves, this is weirdly almost the perfect place to rest up.
At the same time, the booths themselves are very, very small. There’s only just enough room to stretch out your legs beneath the desk. To all intents and purposes, you’re essentially going asleep in a large cupboard. But then if a cupboard is all you need, then why pay for anything more?
Everything about a manga cafe screams ‘Japan’ at you. From the perfect order of the magazines on the shelves, to the relentlessly efficient use of every single square inch of space; from the gently calm atmosphere to the sheer brutalist practicality of the whole concept. Manga cafes are, yet again, the sort of thing which could only possibly exist in the parallel universe that is Tokyo, and the sort of thing you shouldn’t allow yourself to miss if you come here.
The Manboo manga cafes are found throughout Tokyo, and indeed Japan. Shinjuku has at least three – find them using Google Maps, or check their website. Prices range from 900 yen for 3 hours, to 3,000 yen for the night. Shower facilities are provided. Note, if you want to use the internet computers, remember to take your passport – you need to register before being allowed online.