Manga cafes and capsule hotels shift focus to female-friendly features

by Takuya Iida

Kyodo

Japan’s manga cafes and capsule hotels are generally considered the domains of men, with cramped, dark spaces not particularly alluring to female customers.

But with businesses realizing they are forgoing 50 percent of their potential customer base, some have introduced new offerings designed to appeal to women, offering a relaxed, and most importantly, safe environment.

“This is my first time here,” said a woman who visited Hailey’5 Cafe in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward recently. “It’s bright and fashionable. It changes the image of a manga cafe.”

Her boyfriend said, “The interior design, using timber materials, makes it a relaxing atmosphere.”

The couple, both university students, used one of the manga cafe’s “theater rooms” where customers can enjoy movies on a large screen with sound pumped through a high-quality audio system.

The cafe lets people to enjoy drinks and snacks while reading various comic books and magazines of the genre as well, allowing them to access the internet for gaming and to watch videos on a pay-by-the-hour basis.

Hailey’5 Cafe in Shibuya opened in last August. Its operator made an effort to ensure his establishment threw off the dark and oppressive image of the typical manga cafe, a decision the manager said led to a higher-than-normal ratio of female customers.

It offers small, private rooms that users can lock with a key card. The spaces are all nonsmoking, sound-proofed and allow temperature and lighting levels to be controlled individually, with aroma oil provided for free.

With the minimum charge of ¥540 ($4.90) per hour, “about 50 percent of our customers are women, as opposed to 20 percent in general at other manga cafes,” the manager said. “They are also relatively young. About 70 percent of our female customers are in their 20s and 30s.”

Some have begun to use the cafe in ways that not even the owners envisioned.

A group of women, for instance, booked a room so they could watch videos of artists whose concerts they were preparing to see live.

The cafe also sees students come in to work on internet-based study programs by renting its private rooms.

Bay Hotel Akihabara, a capsule hotel in Tokyo’s famed electronics district, focuses specifically on female clientele.

A capsule hotel, also known as a pod hotel, is a cheap accommodation that offers coffin-like sleeping spaces stacked in a large shared room. Only a few cater to women only.

Situated several minutes from Akihabara’s railway hub, it is often booked out on weekends by women attending nearby events and concerts, according to its manager.

With a basic rate starting from ¥3,800 per night, it has 130 capsules — each 2 meters deep, 1 meter wide and 1 meter high. Bags are kept safely in lockers and some of the capsules have televisions.

Showers and powder rooms with hair care and cosmetics products are also available, making the capsule experience almost like a normal hotel.

“Guests feel relaxed, unconcerned about other guests” because they are all female, which adds to the sense of security, the manager said.

Reservations are often made by parents of students taking college entrance exams or university students hunting for jobs in Tokyo, the manager said, allowing families to know the young women have a safe, if small, space of their own.