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San Francisco's Manga Café Mika Closes With $1 Manga Sale

By August 20, 2009

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After a year in business, Manga Cafe Mika, San Francisco's first manga kissaten or manga cafe is ready to close its doors in Japantown Center. In order to get rid of its huge inventory of Japanese manga, the owners of Manga Café Mika are holding a last blast $1 manga sale, selling shrink-wrapped "bricks" of shojo, shonen, josei and seinen manga (e.g. complete or almost complete sets of a series) on Saturday and Sunday August 22 - 23, 2009 from 10:00 am - 6:00 pm.

Owner Jodee Kikuchi, a Bay Area native who has lived in Japan for the past 30 years, her brother Bruce Nakahida and Kikuchi's son Claude opened Manga Café Mika in May 2008 and stocked their shop with 20,000 volumes of manga purchased from a manga kissaten in Okinawa. They also had a small selection of English-language manga, which Nakahida reported "we got rid of that inventory right away."

After this weekend, Nakahida is looking to offload several bookshelves designed just for manga, and any remaining Japanese manga. Any interested collectors, bookshops, schools or libraries looking to haul away the remainder is encouraged to contact Bruce Nakahida at bruce@nci21.com.

So what went wrong here? Why did this manga café fail to gain enough of a clientele to stay open longer than a year? Nakahida had a few thoughts on the subject.

"It was the wrong business," Nakahida said. "We misread the anime and manga business in the U.S. -- it's completely different (than it is in Japan)." He also observed that "America doesn't have the cultural awareness of this kind of business."

That's very true -- manga cafes are an institution in Japan, going back to the day when the manga rental market was the main way people enjoyed comics back in the 1950's. Even today, manga cafes provide an inexpensive, space-saving alternative to buying and shelving manga at home. In America, there's no such tradition, other than the "free" manga cafes at chain bookstores where budget-challenged fans sit on the floor and read manga on the floors of the graphic novel section. Also, numerous Bay Area libraries have excellent selections of manga and graphic novels that only require a library card to browse and borrow.

So what could Manga Café Mika have done differently? Nakahida had some theories.

"Maybe if we were in a different location, like near a university or college -- or maybe if it was part of a real café, where we could serve food and drinks," he said.

Personally, I think one of the main problems with Manga Café Mika is that their inventory of books was 90% Japanese language manga and only 10% English language manga. Many of the titles stocked were older series that contemporary fans had little awareness of. The vast majority of manga readers in San Francisco, even die-hard ones, don't read Japanese fluently. So being charged $5 / hour to browse books that you can't read isn't much of a deal.

Also, with Books Kinokuniya nearby in the same mall, fans could argue that for the cost of two hours in Mika, they could just as easily buy a new volume of their favorite manga to keep, take home and read at their leisure. Or a trip to any Book Off used bookshop (there aren't any branches open in Northern California yet) will get you used English manga for about $5 or Japanese manga for about a buck a book.

Manga Cafes aren't entirely dead in America -- there's still Nix Manga Café in Los Angeles. I haven't visited Nix myself -- so if SoCal folks have, can you share your impressions of the place? Or if you've visited Manga Café Mika and have your thoughts on how this concept could have succeeded if only…, please add your thoughts below.

Image credit: © Deb Aoki


August 20, 2009 at 12:32 pm
(1) Jules says:

Wait a minute. They had an inventory of manga that was 90% in Japanese when the majority of their clientele would be non-Japanese readers? And they charged half the price of a manga by the hour?

Who was the market researcher on their team? That is just ridiculous.

August 20, 2009 at 1:33 pm
(2) Robocon^^ says:

Last I checked (awhile ago), Paradise Cafe in Koko Marina has a manga library/internet cafe roped off with an entry fee. From the signage it looks like it’s Japanese only. I think it’s catered towards Japanese tourists in between their parasailing and scuba diving.


They have pretty good crepes too.

August 20, 2009 at 2:52 pm
(3) Andrew Sherman says:

At the beginning there were quite a few customers, but the English section didn’t have much beyond kid’s books.

August 20, 2009 at 6:39 pm
(4) laurie says:

its funny that she made sure not to mention about the entry free and 90% japanese

I thought 5$ was for the day? hows 5$ an hour a budget?

August 20, 2009 at 6:50 pm
(5) manga says:

There were a lot of things that made me wonder about their business plan — the pricing and the reliance on mostly Japanese content were just two things. I think manga cafes could work in the US — but it would require some out-of-the-box thinking, not just “if it works in Japan, it’ll work the same way in the U.S.” ideas, y’know?

August 20, 2009 at 10:25 pm
(6) spoon says:

Honestly I went into this manga cafe, and left in about 15-20 minutes. There selection of English manga was very sad, and I am near illiterate in Japanese so reading Japanese manga is a slow and challenging mess for me.

In japan the manga cafe’s are different. They have a soda fountain for unlimited drinks, they have vending machines for both cold and warm snacks, they have computer terminals for internet browsing, bathrooms inside the facility, and they have manga on top of that. That means you can literally spend as much time as you want in the manga cafe, and it serves a variety of clientelle. For example when I was in Japan I used manga cafe’s as a internet cafe, where I could check my e-mail, browse the web, and enjoy a cold drink while I was there all for about 700 yen an hour. I think this cafe was just much too limited in its offering to attract enough customers to survive.

August 21, 2009 at 12:05 am
(7) moritheil says:

It’s always surprised me how little Japanese the average international otaku knows. I keep expecting most people to know a lot more than me, and I keep getting surprised.

October 14, 2009 at 1:53 am
(8) goldaline says:

The 90% japanese manga is ridiculous. I’m opening a manga cafe in Austin, right in the UT area. And the manga will be in english, with maybe a small selection of classics in japanese. Plus video game machines, coffee and snack bar, wifi, and maybe even some daily-fee video rental for foreign films. Wish me luck!

October 16, 2009 at 11:27 am
(9) lelangir says:

>>The 90% japanese manga is ridiculous. I’m opening a manga cafe in Austin, right in the UT area. And the manga will be in english, with maybe a small selection of classics in japanese. Plus video game machines, coffee and snack bar, wifi, and maybe even some daily-fee video rental for foreign films. Wish me luck!

Good luck! Make sure to have scantily dressed 本物の日本メイドさん to attract all the weirdos.

May 5, 2010 at 12:43 pm
(10) Brian says:

I am looking to open up a manga cafe and would like input from it’s loyal fans :) . Of course the magna I will be putting out will be in english and a small section for Japanese manga. I wouldnt be able to make it an extremely large business at first, but it will be modestly designed and fully stocked with the latest manga.

June 28, 2010 at 10:53 pm
(11) Kristina says:

I’m planning on visiting Nix’s Manga Cafe in the near future but there is actually another Manga Cafe in SoCal called Chaya.

It’s located in Costa Mesa and I think their success is attributed to the fact that they ARE a real cafe and they have an even amount of Japanese & English manga. They’re open until 11 PM and have free Wi-fi as well.

Sadly enough, I think the reason why Mika Cafe had to close was because it wasn’t catering to the needs of the customers. Like spoon said, in Japan, there are tons of services and commodities for the customers to enjoy.

Brian – I’d definitely spend most of my time at a manga cafe if it was 24 hours, had free wi-fi, and had food services as well. I wouldn’t mind paying a flat rate cover fee or by the hour. (How else would you be able to make money?) You could even do a membership sort of thing. It’d be a home away from home, just with tons of manga. :)

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