Few hotels in the world actively encourage guests to have sleepless nights, but a manga-themed establishment does just that — and it is proving very popular with Japanese and non-Japanese alike.
The Manga Art Hotel in central Tokyo has developed a unique offering, with capsule-like rooms built into specially curated manga-stuffed bookshelves.
“It is specifically designed to allow guests to concentrate on reading manga,” said Masayoshi Mikoshiba, the 34-year-old co-founder of the hotel’s operator, Dot Inc.
Guests were predominantly Japanese when the hotel opened in February 2019 in the Jinbocho second-hand bookstore neighborhood, but visitors from abroad have since surged to around 40 percent through word of mouth, with lodgers coming from 66 countries.
The hotel is keen to distinguish itself from manga cafes, those uniquely Japanese establishments that customers visit 24 hours, seven days a week to read from an extensive library of comic books.
In reality, the cafes often serve as late-night refuges for revelers who miss the night’s last train and need a comfortable, cheap place with an internet connection to stay until public transport starts up again in the morning.
But anyone can enter a manga cafe anonymously, and such establishments are not considered the safest late-night option, with customers sometimes getting unruly after a big night drinking.
The Manga Art Hotel strives to deliver a more peaceful, cultured and safe experience for genuine manga enthusiasts, requiring guests to book in advance and provide identification like a normal hotel, Mikoshiba said.
Guests sleep in cuboid spaces behind the bookshelves, each accommodating one person. With the cubicles dispersed among the shelves rather than lined up, guests feel secluded in their nooks, creating an environment that allows them to concentrate on their chosen manga, according to the operator.
The 180-square-meter facility occupies the fourth and fifth floors of a black nine-story building adorned with a white neon “Manpaku” sign, a play on words combining the kanji for “manga” and “lodging.”
The fourth floor has 16 beds for female guests and the fifth floor 19 beds for males. Depending on the season, the price for a one-night stay varies from ¥3,000 to ¥8,000.
The hotel has a collection of 5,000 manga volumes — 4,000 in Japanese and 1,000 in English — displayed on white, minimalist bookshelves. They include global hits such as “My Hero Academia” and “Attack on Titan” as well as lesser-known works.
According to Mikoshiba, the facility offers guests a “digital detox” experience, allowing them to ditch their phones and tablets and get their hands on paper books for a change.
The hotel’s location is another drawing card for tourists as it provides easy public transport access to Tokyo sightseeing spots, he said.
Regular guests come from all over Japan, and one repeat customer has already stayed at the hotel around 50 times.
Among foreign visitors, European nations such as the Netherlands, Britain and Germany are well represented, as are travelers from the United States.
Visitors from China, South Korea and Taiwan have not yet discovered the Manga Art Hotel in big numbers, despite them making up a large percentage of foreign tourists coming to Japan.
The hotel aims to eventually have foreign guests account for 70 percent of its clientele, Mikoshiba said.
“The hotel is beautiful and cute, with all the manga,” said Sarrola Baptist, a 19-year-old French guest who learned of the place on a tip from his mother.
Baptist was reading “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” in the hotel, whose anime adaptation he had seen before. “It is the first time to read it, and is a good experience,” he said.
The hotel rotates its manga offerings every two months, taking into consideration two criteria: the artistic and design perspective, and the emotions the content stirs in the reader.
Every manga series is accompanied by a Japanese and English description.
Mikoshiba included the word “art” in the name of the hotel to promote manga as an art form and to dispel the idea that it is a frivolous form of low-brow entertainment.
In May 2019, he visited a manga exhibition at London’s British Museum that investigated the art’s origin, and his experience there strengthened his belief in its worth, especially after he interviewed a curator.
He reads about 10 manga a day, while five other employees read around 20 each. They then debate among themselves which manga meet the hotel’s standards.
Mikoshiba and the staff call themselves “manga sommeliers” who serve and guide guests at the reception. “Guests may be asked what they feel like reading, and the sommeliers will recommend manga which seems to suit them,” he said.
Although big-name manga works are available, Mikoshiba wants guests to go on a serendipitous manga-finding adventure.
The hotel has also been building a database of its manga collection to help staff find a perfect match for each guest’s taste. The hotel’s catalog is searchable with emotive keywords such as “sad,” “thrilling” or even “heart-wrenching.”
Mikoshiba is not shy in admitting he has always dreamed of earning money by reading manga, rather than working in an office. “For us, reading manga is working. I had always wanted to be in this kind of environment,” he said.
From September 2018 to just before the hotel’s grand opening last February, Mikoshiba would read manga 16 straight hours a day, polishing off 30 to 50 volumes per sitting. He selected the ones that had a lasting impact for the shelves.
“If the works leave a lasting memory, it means that you’re not reading them with your brain but rather with your heart. That stirs your emotion.”
He said he always wanted to launch a business since his university days. After leaving e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. in 2014, he established a small company servicing holiday rental customers.
He then realized that the demand from tourists to Japan was enormous and growing, with the government going all out to tap the international travel sector.
He is considering opening more hotels in Japan and aims to expand the reach of manga abroad by launching establishments overseas in the future.
The hotel recently started posting images of some of its manga collection on Instagram with explanations in English and Japanese so visitors will know what to expect.
Mikoshiba loves traveling, having visited 50 cities in 35 countries, and came to respect the power of a common language when communicating with new people. When he studied international politics in college, he learned that a common language, a tool of mutual understanding, is fundamental to resolving conflict.
When he set up Dot Inc. in 2016 with Yasukazu Yoshitama, a designer who is also a manga enthusiast, he began the task of establishing comic books as a common language.
“When traveling around, I asked other tourists what can be a common language for Japan,” he said. “Manga was the content that convinced me the most.”