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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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