The day we went to Hiroshima was a giant question mark. To me, this was fun. We took it step by step, and every time we successfully completed one leg of the journey we felt accomplished.
First we had to get to the bus stop at Lake Yamanaka and hopefully get on a bus to Mishima, whose departure time we were basing on a picture I’d taken of a timetable posted at the bus stop. The sweet woman from our ryokan drove us there and anxiously waited until we got on the bus. It showed up when the timetable said it would and we got on. Step one, check.
Then we arrived in Mishima – luckily the bus dropped us right at the train station – and had to get a ticket on the Shinkansen train to Hiroshima. There were seats open on a train leaving in 20 minutes. Perfect! See how things just work out when they’re meant to? Although it set us back US$150 each for the ticket, we viewed the chance to ride the world’s fastest train as more than just a mode of transportation, it was a worthy part of a Japan visit. Step two, check.
Then we arrived in Hiroshima and had to find a place to sleep. We went to Tourist Information in the train station and they tried calling a couple places, but again cherry blossom season reared its ugly head and everything was fully booked. So Matt pulled out his back-up plan: “Do you know any manga cafes?”
Manga cafes, or internet and comic cafes, are a unique part of the Japanese culture. They’re places where you can rent a chair or cubicle for a set time – by the hour or in 3, 6, 9, and 12 hour blocks – to read Japanese manga comics. These are not comics for kids, but rather slightly pornographic adult graphic novels, so the manga cafe has a certain reputation amongst foreigners despite its total normalcy for Japanese.
There was a cafe just across from the train station so we said what the hell, let’s go check it out. This place was awesome. Sure we had to sleep in a glorified cubicle, but the mat covering the ground was big enough for two and more comfortable than any number of bus chairs or hard wood hostel beds I’ve slept in in the past year. Plus this cubicle came with a free unlimited drink bar (coffee, sodas, even soft-serve ice cream) and free wifi. There were ping pong tables, pool tables, and darts if you felt like playing a game. Some even have karaoke rooms. For just Y100 we could use the showers, which were actually pretty nice. The cubicle also had a computer and TV screen where we could watch movies – there were a couple English options – and we could order food to it (we did this our last night in Hiroshima, to properly experience the manga cafe). Step three, check.
Hiroshima was our first but not last experience in a manga cafe. Due to the inaccessibility of hostels, we ended up in manga cafes for four nights: 2 in Hiroshima, 2 in Kyoto. As a result, I now have member cards to two different cafes, so although I haven’t had to stay in one again since Kyoto I know it’s always a back up option. I do have to say, the one in Hiroshima (Aprecio) was far nicer than the one in Kyoto, plus they let us store our stuff there during the day, which no other place did.
The main problem with manga cafes though was that we had no home base. When we checked in at 6 pm, we had to check out at 6 am the next morning, and unless we wanted to pay way more than it should be for 24 hours we weren’t able to check back in until the next night. So when we had a long night out celebrating Matt’s birthday and got kicked out of our cubicle at 6 am, we were forced to wander the city all day nursing a brutal hangover and take a nap in a park. When the time came that we could check back in, strategically timing it for when we wanted to wake up the next day, we were pretty damn happy.
These places probably sound kind of ridiculous for so many nights’ accommodation, but honestly I’m happy to have experienced it. It was strange and definitely not something I could have done without months of unusual accommodation experience, plus the company of another backpacker who was just as up for any situation as I was. But if you ever find yourself stuck in Japan with nowhere to sleep, find a sign that says “24” in the middle of a lot of kanji symbols, most likely with pictures of some of the bonus spaces, and try out this uniquely Japanese option.