Manga Hobos – Japanese Culture Meets American Laziness


Web comic “Anime News Nina” recently satirized a horrible trend among the American otaku community. You know the story. You walk into your local Borders or Barnes & Noble and head towards the graphic novel section. You begin your search through the shelves, looking to see if Tokyopop finally put out that latest volume of Strawberry Marshmallow. But your search ends abruptly because of the teenage fangirl sitting in the aisle with her nose buried in some volume of Saiyuki. Her body leans against the bookshelf and blocks the bottom three rows of books, which just so happens to be the location of those Marshmallow books. No problem, how about Negima? You walk over to the N-section to find some other pudgy kid blocking the shelves. He’s just sitting there reading through a stack of Naruto volumes, which are all piled up on the floor next to him.

Nina first worries that these poor kids are orphans, forced to take shelter in the bookstore because they have no where else to go. But she quickly learns the truth – they ain’t nothing but no good bums! They’re mooching off of the bookstore and making things more difficult for those of us actually wanting to buy a book. They don’t even notice you’re there, and if you ask them to please move over, they’ll give you attitude like it’s such an inconvenience. How dare you interrupt their reading like that!

These manga hobos are an epidemic in America, but what’s worse is…

You’re probably one of them!

So where do these vagrants come from? Why have they found their way off of the street and collect themselves in the manga section? Surely, you won’t find the unwashed masses parked in the history section. What gives American otaku the right to sit there?

The concept actually originates from Japan. Any American going into a Japanese bookstore will immediately notice one tiny bit of culture shock. Most of the store patrons will be standing in the aisles and reading. It’s a very odd sight to see. We’re so used to the idea of a kid reading a magazine at a convenient store to be yelled at by the clerk, “This is not a library. Either buy it or get it!” But in Japanese culture, everyone stands around and quietly reads right there in the store. That’s just the way it is.

It is Japanese custom to stand and read at a bookstore.


I’m not quite sure how this trend got imported from the Japanese bookstore to your local Borders. More than likely, some American otaku walked into a Japanese bookstore, noticed all the Japanese people standing and reading in the aisles, and decided that this must be the “authentic” way of enjoying manga. So they simply started doing it in American stores.

I can’t say I really blame them for that. Whenever I’m in the city, I go to a number of Japanese bookstores. With that “When in Rome….” mentality in mind, I usually pick up the latest issue of some manga magazine and I join the other customers in the standing-and-reading tradition.

But there are several factors that make this standing-and-reading practice very uncomfortable for me:

  1. I’m the only white dude in the store doing this, so I feel stupid.
  2. My American instincts tell me, “This is not a library. Go buy the damn book!”
  3. I get physically exhausted from standing and reading.

That last point is the most important. In America, we are simply not used to standing and reading at the same time. The only time we stand and read is if we’re giving some kind of speech or presentation. But when comes to reading silently to ourselves, we are always sitting down.

This becomes very apparent when one stands and reads at the Japanese bookstore. And when you add in the weight of holding a very thick manga magazine, one would begin to get very exhausted very quickly. I usually attempt to lean against the shelf or something to get myself more comfortable, but it’s of no use. Within a very short time, I give up and go to the cashier to buy the book or magazine. That way, I can take it home and comfortably read it while sitting down.

This innate American laziness when it comes to reading is how the Manga Hobos got their unique (and annoying) characteristic. The otaku attempts to stand and read at Borders, just like any real Japanese person would. But after a while, he’ll get to a point of becoming uncomfortable. But he won’t just go off to the store’s cafe or any the other designated chairs around the store, oh no! Real Japanese people read their manga right there on the spot! So he just plops his lazy ass down in the middle of the aisle and continues reading. And then another otaku sees him on the floor reading and joins him. And then another, then another, then another… and so gives birth of this horrible, horrible trend.

Bums doing what they do best, blocking the aisle. Source

Manga Hobos need to be stopped. Their laziness not only annoys those other otaku who are actually there to buy the book, but it also blocks the way of non-otaku bookstore patrons who need to walk through the aisle. Can you imagine the negative image these bums are portraying to the public by doing this?

You’re in America, people, that kind of shit shouldn’t be tolerated. If you need to read a book right there in the store, then go to the cafe or one of the many chairs provided. Don’t sit in middle of the aisle and block everyone. Or if you want to be “Authentic Japanese”, then actually try to stand up and read the book. That way, you can move around more easily if someone needs to get through.

But Americans can’t stand and read like that. These vagrants are the result of Japanese culture mixing with American laziness, and it’s become a very pathetic aspect of our sub-culture.

Please feel free to kick a bum the next time he blocks you from your Negima. ^_^

UPDATE: J in Tokyo writes in on how he deals with a similar trend that’s been starting in Japan:

I just read your blog about Manga Hobos, and have a great solution: Hip check them when you walk by.

I’ve been living in Tokyo the last 10 years, and I would definitely say that the number of people who squat in public places is on the rise, (especially high-school girls).

I was walking through the station on a Friday night (and since Shibuya is the most crowded stations in the world, I’m sure you can imagine the population density… INSANE). There were two girls hunkered down fixing their makeup right in the middle of the flow of traffic, and it is a testimony to the discipline of the Japanese, and the gun free populace that nobody killed them right there on the spot.

Anyway–as I walked by–I gently, but _forcefully_ applied just enough pressure with a hip check to send the one closest to me sprawling on her ass as I walked by. While I’m sure there was a nicer way to approach these clown girls of Shibuya (my private term for the ones who paint white around their eyes), the yelp she gave was priceless… I didn’t even turn back.

Thanks, J!

UPDATE: Wow, who’d of thought this post would create the kind of buzz that it did! Thanks to everyone who linked to this post and to those who have voted for it on I really hope you enjoyed it. ^_^

The biggest criticism I’ve been getting is “well, why don’t you just ask them to move instead of being such an a-hole about it?” People, it doesn’t matter if you’ll move when we ask you to move, the fact is that we shouldn’t have to ask you in the first place! It’s not normal to sit in the aisle and read like that. Do you see it happening in any other part of the store?

(I mean, besides the children’s section… >_>)

Contrary to how it looks, this post is not just a “man, I really hate these guys” rant. I’m showing that it is a very culturally unacceptable practice and the people who do it are being rude to the other costumers in the store. There are not a lot of reasons why a non-otaku person would start hating on us, but if they continue to see manga readers showing this kind of disrespect in a public bookstore, it starts giving the community a bad name.

If you are a manga hobo yourself, please do the right thing by not sitting in the aisle. Like I said, the bookstores already cater to you by providing chairs and a cafe area, please utilized them. Please encourage your fellow otaku to get their asses off the ground and into a more suitable location.

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