Jennifer is a writer, translator and bishounen connoisseur. When not working, she can usually be found scouring Osaka for beautiful comics of the lewd variety. You can find her on the MT forum under the handle nifa
Ataraxia Cafe is a recently-opened cafe salon in Osaka open only to otaku women! Not only do they provide a menu you would expect to see at any regular cafe, it also provides a safe space for female otaku to indulge in their geeky hobbies with like-minded individuals. The owners of Ataraxia Cafe were gracious enough to give manga.tokyo an exclusive tour and interview!
You’ve all heard of cat cafes. Many of you have heard of manga cafes. Maybe you have even heard of cafes themed on popular characters, games, or anime. But have you ever heard of a cafe that is exclusively for female otaku? That is exactly what Ataraxia Cafe in the heart of Nipponbashi ‘Otaroad’ near Osaka’s DenDen Town happens to be. Opened at the very end of 2015, this members-only cafe is a safe space for the busy otaku woman of today to relax and indulge in hobbies that they might not be so inclined to display to the general public.
To find out more, manga.tokyo went along to try it out for ourselves.
The cafe itself is located on the third floor of the Hikari Musen Tama Land Building, so you might need to look out for the signboard to find it! Go up the stairs, past the pancake cafe on the second floor, and you’ll see the entrance on the third floor. Just go straight inside and the reception will be right in front of you!
As Ataraxia Cafe is a members-only cafe, you must join before you are able to enter. The requirements for membership are simple: be female, over 18, and -of course- an otaku! It costs nothing to join; you just pay each time you come, with no hourly fee.
In order to join you must provide an official form of ID that displays both your date of birth and gender.* A passport, Japanese health insurance card, or Residence Card are examples of ID that you can use. If you have one of these with you then you can fill out the membership application form using your smartphone or the cafe’s PC. Once the staff receive your completed application then you are ready to use the cafe!
Once you’ve registered and chosen a drink plan then you’re ready to go!
So just what kind of place is Ataraxia Cafe exactly? We asked the founders, Aoyama-San and Ueno-san why they started up this cafe in the first place:
Aoyama: ‘We are both otaku and cosplayers, so we wanted to relieve some of the worries that we felt. The people who come here don’t usually have the space to make cosplay, or have to hide the fact that they are otaku. We thought it would be great if those kinds of people could have a space where they could read or write manga and have that kind of freedom. We both talked about having that kind of space as a cafe. We just kept thinking, “it would be great if we had this” and “it would be great if we had that” and that’s how we came to this now.’
There are more people than you would think who have to hide what they enjoy
As we looked around, we could see that there is indeed a large, brightly lit workspace! The wide tables provide ample space for sewing, and there are even sewing machines and sergers available to borrow for free!
At the back of the room some bright colours caught our eye. A collection of wig samples, in a range of colours decorated the table. ‘These are from Assist Wig. It is about five minutes walk from here’, explained one of the owners. Apparently, many customers buy their wigs there and then come here to style them.
It seems wig-styling is quite a popular activity here. When we asked about the most common items the customers borrowed, we were told that these are actually the wig heads.
There is more than just wig-styling items available to borrow, though. There are a whole range of things available, from laptops to printers. There is even a huge stapler, perfect for putting together your own fan comics!
Close to the workspace is a row of tables and chairs. Perfect for setting up your computer or drawing illustrations.
So how do customers tend to use the space?
Aoyama-san explained: ‘The workspace in the back is of course mostly used by cosplayers. Artists tend to use the tables to place their computers or their sketch pads. In the sofa space there are usually girls relaxing with manga or doujinshi. It isn’t just cosplayers that come here.’
Ueno: ‘That’s right. It’s usually a third of each.’
Aoyama: ‘There are customers who like to play games. We mostly have Jump manga here, but there are also customers who like to read the shojo manga that we have. It really is a mixed-pot. There are also customers playing smartphone games. There isn’t really a tendency towards one kind of customer.’
We made our way to the sofas in order to enjoy our premium drinks. We tried the strawberry milk and the matcha milk. ‘We make them strong so they don’t weaken when the ice melts.’ It was really delicious!
Of course, this cafe is more than just delicious drinks. It’s the perfect place to relax! Ataraxia cafe has a large collection of manga to borrow for free.
It isn’t just cosplayers who come here
Ataraxia exists so that women can do what they would normally feel uncomfortable doing in public. A popular hobby amongst members is reading BL manga and doujinshi (fan-comics). BL stands for ‘Boy’s Love’, and although it depicts same-sex relationships between men, it’s actually written by women for women. (This could be a whooooole other article, so we won’t get into it too much here ;-p)
So, of course, having BL fans amongst us, we had to try it out! At first it felt a little strange to read that kind of manga in public, but as the staff assured us, it’s perfectly normal here at Ataraxia cafe! We could buy the manga and doujinshi we like at one of the nearby shops and come here to read it! Many women feel that they can’t easily read such things at home, so this is a great place to feel comfortable doing what they enjoy.
We asked the owners if there is anybody who comes alone. ‘If we had to say one or the other, then more of the customers are probably here in groups. I guess about 60% come in groups, but there are also a lot of customers who come alone.’ The atmosphere in the cafe is very comfortable and we can understand why someone would come here alone to relax!
Of course, we had to ask if they receive any foreign customers. ‘We’ve had customers from Indonesia, the UK, France, the USA, and Singapore. Many of them are tourists! I ’d say about 40% of foreign customers live here and the rest are visitors.’ If you happen to be visiting Osaka then we are sure Ataraxia Cafe would be happy to receive you!
Of course, there isn’t only manga and cosplay to do here. Thanks to the free wi-fi and the all-important phone chargers, it’s a perfect place to bring your portable game consoles! If your console or phone runs out of power, you can borrow a suitable charger for free!
After finishing our drinks and reading manga for a while, we noticed some notebooks labelled ‘Communication Note’. The customers leave notes and drawings in here, be it just talking about their experience, their hobbies, or even sharing twitter handles. Despite feeling disappointed in how much better most customers are at drawing, the notes are a really good read. If you visit, then please write or draw something!
Customers seem to be really happy with the cafe. There are many positive messages on the website:
‘I want to take my time and drink alcohol while reading manga. For a women to go out drinking alone is usually a little uncomfortable….so I’m really grateful’
‘Whether it’s making clothes, cutting wigs, making accessories, drawing manga, reading manga…everybody can do whatever they like without worrying so it’s really great!’
As well as being available to rent out for private events by customers, the Ataraxia Cafe owners have also rented the cafe themselves to throw a few events of their own. The most recent was for the hugely popular online game Touken Ranbu. Many of the participants wore cosplay, and everybody got to know each other and talk about the series!
As our time here came to an end, we really began to understand the importance of a space like this in the city. As female otaku ourselves, we sometimes wonder if our hobbies are seen as unusual by ‘regular’ people. There are times when we have to hide our interests or at least think about where and when it’s okay to talk about them with our friends.
We had to ask our wonderful hosts, Aoyama and Ueno, to tell us what they felt most proud about the cafe they have put their blood, sweat, and tears into. First, Ueno-san told us her thoughts:
‘What am I proud of? I guess it must be the fact that you don’t have to worry about being judged, right? There are more people than you would think who have to hide what they enjoy, be it liking BL, the fact that they do cosplay, or that they watch anime. Many families are against that kind of fandoms. I mean, like, just like a guy would hide those kind of magazines, women are hiding things too. You feel like you can’t go to, say, a fancy cafe in Namba or a McDonald’s and have that kind of conversation because the people around you would look at you and think ‘ugh, otaku’. So, being able to talk about the things you love without having to hide is a big deal. At least, that’s what I think. I would talk online about how I would love something like that, and it actually becoming a reality, I think, is our biggest strength. We aren’t like any other cafe around here… it’s a place where you can be yourself.’
Aoyama-San also gave us her thoughts:
‘The customers come here and then go home feeling comforted. There is that, and, of course it really is a comfortable place. I’ve never been here as a customer of course (laughs), but the customers have told us that they feel comfortable here. So I think that’s it. There is no way that you would ever be attacked for being an otaku here. I think that is what I’m really proud about this place.’
There is no way you would ever be attacked for being an otaku here
Although many outsiders may be against the idea of a women-only cafe, it’s important to note that Ataraxia Cafe was created to satisfy a need. Female otaku needed a place where they can indulge in their hobbies without worrying about being judged by ‘normal’ people or members of the opposite sex. The relaxing atmosphere, extensive rental service, and friendly staff make this place one in a million. If you feel alone because of your hobbies, and wonder if there is something wrong with you, you can come here and realise that you are not alone. If you are a female otaku living in the Kansai area, or planning to visit Osaka and want to experience real otaku subculture, then give Ataraxia Cafe a try. You will be welcomed with open arms!
If you are planning to visit, Ataraxia Cafe is most easily accessible from Namba station.
Access by train
Nankai Line: Namba Station
Kintetsu / Hanshin Line: Osaka Namba Station
Osaka Municipal Subway Yotsubashi Line, Midosuji Line, Sennichimae Line: Namba Station
You can also use Nippombashi station:
Kintestu Line: Kintestu Nippombashi Station
Osaka Municipal Subway Sakaisuji Line: Nippombashi Station
Hikari Musen Tama Land Building 3F, 3 Chome-8-25 Nipponbashi, Naniwa-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 556-0005
大阪市浪速区日本橋3丁目8番25号 光ムセンたまらんどビル 3F
Ataraxia Cafe is located just off ‘Otaroad’ in Nippombashi. Follow the signs for DenDen Town. Look out for the blue ‘Tama Land’ sign and ‘gram’ pancake cafe.
Go straight into the entranceway to the left (it says ‘gram’ above it) and climb the stairs to the third floor.
Sat/Sun/National Holidays: 11:00-23:30
The cafe will sometimes be closed for private events, so please check the signboard in the entrance or the Cafe’s Twitter page @ataraxiacafe