Another ominous ‘fed up’

By Amelia Newcomb | October 01, 2008 | Japan

Manga kissa (short for kissaten, or cafes) are Japanese novelties where you can watch anime and read comics and magazines for a per hour fee. At one I visited in Tokyo’s Shinjuku area recently, you pay about $4 for an hour of perusing a large selection of manga, enjoying free tea, or trolling the Internet. They’re kind of cool – and not a bad deal!

But they can be strange places too: you sit in one of numerous little cubicles with computers and a reading lamp in a large blackened room . You’re all together – and all alone. Some people rent group rooms. Adult videos can be part of the scenery. You can see how people – especially kids – could spend way too much time in them.

Now the cafes are in the spotlight as Osakans come to terms with the Sept. 30 murder, by arson, of 15 men who appeared to be spending the night in a low-brow manga kissa in town. Some men stay in the places if they miss the last train home; you can spend the night for about $12. That bargain-basement price for 24-hour access lures the homeless as well, and their presence at manga kissa has become emblematic of the poverty that lies just under the prosperity of many cities here.

The Osaka murders follow the multiple stabbings in June of people in the manga and anime-focused Tokyo district of Akihabara. Seven people died. That killer was also fed up – and decided to vent his rage on the people who come to Akihabara to watch people dress up as manga characters and take in the numerous manga and anime-related sights, many of which are decidedly, well, different. The killings brought a sharp crackdown on the costume play that was previously a regular feature.

Two such massive murders in just four months are hard news for Japanese accustomed to a profoundly low (though rising) crime rate. Can you blame anime and manga? No. But the killings have exposed a dark underbelly of life here – the struggle to stay afloat in a society that increasingly seems to see itself in terms of winners and losers, and the alienation of many who can’t make connections that give meaning to their day-to-day life.

View All Posts By Amelia Newcomb

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