Manga kissa

Somehow living in SF has made it even more difficult to survive Tokyo’s stifling hot summers. I couldn’t have done it without ice cream, coca-cola, and the occasional air conditioned space. This trip I spent quite some time in air conditioned manga cafes, a.k.a. “manga kissa” or “manga kissaten” in Japanese.

The manga cafes in Tokyo are way more than just cafes with comics… they’re also combination internet cafes equipped with internet/tv/game terminals and ps2s. You can check out games and dvds in addition to manga and magazines. And if that isn’t enough, I’ve even seen cafes with dart boards and pool tables.

The setup of your personal area in a manga kissa can really vary. There’s the standard library/classroom setup (a chair in front of a small desk), there are somewhat more private cubicles, and then there are private booth options. Booths can be large enough to share with friends and come in various types: regular chairs, couches, mats, or massage chairs. One cafe I went to in Akiba had futons with pillows in a tatami room, and another had a large tatami floor “family room” for groups of 3 or more. Some places allow you to close your booth for complete privacy… aside from the security cameras overhead to make sure you don’t steal anything!

The cost is generally something like 200-400 yen for the first half hour and then an equivalent pro-rated amount in 10-15 minute increments. The price always includes free coffee, tea, and soft drinks… and sometimes free soft serve ice cream! (Sadly, the machine I tried was broken.) Most have more substantial food or snack options, and I never had a problem bringing in my own food.

A complaint I had which only applied to one of the cafes was the nasty cigarette smell! There are a lot of smokers in Japan and of course all manga kissa are indoors with air conditioning. Although every cafe had a non-smoking section (it may be a requirement) this one had only a very tiny area situated right next to the smoking section! Ugh!

Quite a few customers must spend their nights here as there are always reduced rates for a certain number of hours late into the night until the extreme early hours of the morning (places are usually open 24 hours/7 days a week) and they all had shower facilities and blankets. I personally would definitely not mind spending the night in one of those tatami/futon rooms!

I have decided that for my next trip (hopefully during either spring or fall), I will backpack around and spend every night in a different manga kissa. Whee!

diary gear music

Recording and engineering

Yep, I’m working on some new song recordings and this time around I’ll be sharing engineering duties with my collaborator, which means that I am still doing much of it myself for pretty much the first time ever (oh YAY!). Aside from the fact that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing (but hey I AM some kind of engineer, right? Pfft, I can figure this out!), it’s frustrating to have to make do with my extremely limited equipment and severely underpowered computer (a 1.5 GHz Powerbook G4 with a mere 1GB of RAM… sigh). Well I don’t really have any good software plugins anyway. And who knows, it may be interesting! I stand by the philosophy of “as long as it sounds good to me.”

Over the course of the last several months I have learned several things:

  • 2″ tape is awfully heavy!
  • Metric Halo’s Mobile I/O ULN-2 is way better than my old M-Audio Firewire 410. Considering the price difference it damned well better be! The pres sound really nice, however the stepped gain control knob is annoying. There’s something really nice about a continuous gain control knob. Oh well. I wish it had TOSLINK connectors in addition to coax and AES. And hmm I also wish it had separate headphone and monitor routing control. And while I’m at it I wish it were smaller and lighter than it is (it’s not quite 1U and is about 4 pounds). Anyway, other than all that it’s simple and easy to figure out and use. I like the meters up front. The software mixing console is nice and simple too… though I did find a couple of quirks that thankfully don’t affect usability: when you click on the block diagram it will continue to darken with each click and you can only fix this by quitting and reopening the console application; also you can’t get the console window back if you close it but don’t quit, unless you quit and reopen. Weird.
  • Ableton Live 5 is great for assembling loop-based music, but only REALLY nice once the samples are all nicely cut and faded perfect loops. The good: manipulating samples through warping and playing with the beat markers can make for some really cool sounds. The bad: not being able to do any fine-tuning/destructive edits within Ableton (I suppose rendering a sample is an okay workaround); not being able to snap to zero crossings (Ableton lets you fade the start and end points, but it’s something that’s either on or off); not being able to crossfade adjacent audio edits in the arrangement view. Hmm. I guess it’s REALLY not meant to be an editor. Complete takes are good anyway, right?