Ayako Ueki has struck a blow for new and expectant mothers who can't live without their daily manga fix.
The mother of two has opened a special manga room in Tokyo's Nerima Ward where women can relax with their babies while enjoying their favorite comic books.
“I wanted to create a relaxing place for mothers who hesitate to go out because of concerns about their baby beginning to cry,” Ueki said.
The service is offered in a 43-square-meter room that was refurbished from a vacant storehouse near a train station. It became fully opened in January, and business has grown through word of mouth.
In the room, where soft music is played in the background, there are some 400 comic books popular among women filling low bookshelves, as well as rugs and cushions on the floor.
The manga include “Tokimeki Tonight,” a popular fantasy romantic comedy in the 1980s. “Kimi ni Todoke”--a story about friendship and romance among high school students that started in 2005--is also on the shelves.
“I sometimes get lonely and sad when I am in my home for a long time,” said Miu Kobayashi, 30, while her 4-month-old son slept. “But I can chat with other manga-loving mothers here.”
“I like this place because I can relax,” Hidemi Isokane added. The 35-year-old mother said she has visited the manga room more than four times.
Women can use the service during the period from pregnancy until their babies start crawling. Men are not allowed, which gives mothers the chance to breast-feed their babies without embarrassment.
Unlike ordinary comic book cafes, the manga room does not sell food and drinks. Instead, users can bring their own refreshments.
Ueki, 37, hit upon the idea while she was on child-care leave from a job as a temp worker for a software development company. She is raising a 5-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter.
When Ueki invited a friend who is also a mother to her home, she saw her relaxing while reading manga.
Before starting her business, Ueki applied to a government subsidy program for businesses that can help society. But she recalled that in the competition, her plan met with the concern that mothers could forget about their babies, becoming so absorbed in the manga.
Ueki said she argued that safety would be secured because the service would be limited to mothers with babies before they begin crawling, and that they would sit beside their young children. She added that she believes reading manga offers a much-needed source of relaxation and entertainment for mothers with small children.
Ueki's plan was selected and given funding in September.
Ueki has employed a mentally disabled woman for the room, which she said is an attempt to make her business more rooted in the community.
Masami Ohinata, professor of developmental psychology at Keisen University, praised Ueki’s service and offered some advice.
“It’s good for mothers to get a chance to be refreshed,” she said. “But babies could feel they are neglected by their mothers who are absorbed too much in reading. I hope mothers will say something to one another and hold their babies from time to time.”
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