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Manga and zzz's, Japan's latest business model

Guests strike up their reading poses inside Book and Bed Tokyo, in the capital's Ikebukuro district

TOKYO -- For some, taking a book to bed and reading until slumber comes can be a great way to end the day. Actually, it's a great way to end the day for enough people that a real estate company here is using it as a business model.

With a library of 1,700 volumes, 30 bunks, showers and wash basins, Book and Bed Tokyo is touted as a "bookstore where you can stay."

Its books are for borrowing, not for keeps. The hotel, which opened last November, is on the seventh floor of a mixed-use building a minute's walk from the capital's Ikebukuro Station. 

As the elevator doors open, guests are greeted by rows of bookshelves. The wide-ranging collection includes comics,

Some bunks are behind the inn's bookshelves.

coffee table books, even works on philosophy. A lounge has benches with plush cushions for relaxing and reading, and there are 24-hour shower facilities.

The operator, R-Store, wanted to create a place where guests can get lost in a book or strike up a conversation with other literary types. Twelve bunks behind the shelves and accessed through openings in them are fully booked a month in advance. Other bunks have a two-week or so waiting list.

The company now plans to open a second book-oriented hotel, in Kyoto, by the end of this month.

So Rikimaru, a manager in charge of new business development, came up with the concept. He traces the idea to a luxury hotel in the southern island prefecture of Okinawa. Seven months ago, he was staying there for his sister-in-law's wedding. While drinking at the hotel bar, he had "a sudden urge to pass into a slumber right there, right in that moment of joy."

Back in Tokyo, he shared his inspiration with R-Store's president. They started looking for a location and hit upon a property that had a long, narrow space. 

The layout inspired them to line a long wall with bookshelves. This moved them closer to the light bulb -- or maybe the turn off the light -- moment: a place that allows customers to relax and read all they want, until they doze off in a moment of ideal comfort.

Hoping to target a wide demographic, they filled those shelves mostly with a selection of casual reads. To help create a relaxing ambiance, they chose a wood-themed interior.

Then came the decision over what kind of business license to apply for; they picked one that allows for simple lodging -- the same license typically held by capsule hotels and other budget inns where guests sleep in isolated but non-lockable bunks and share bath, shower and toilet facilities.

There are two sizes of beds at Book and Bed Tokyo. The smaller one goes for 3,800 yen ($37) plus taxes a night, and the larger one costs 4,800 yen.

Falling asleep while reading is quite common, but doing so at a place of business is a totally different experience, Rikimaru said.

"It gives you this special thrill," he said, "like you're staying at a friend's home."

Another attraction of Book and Bed Tokyo is that it offers guests opportunities to meet one another, according to a female stayer who said she initially came just to read.

"To me," she said, "the fun part is to communicate with others, especially foreign guests."

According to the company, Book and Bed Tokyo's clientele is equal parts Japanese tourist/company employee, foreign tourist and Tokyo resident. The Tokyo residents who use the lodge do so to read and meet fellow bookworms. Japanese tourists like the place's uniqueness and reasonable pricing. Foreign guests can learn from their Japanese counterparts about obscure spots and products that are not in guidebooks.

One other note: As the isolated, personal bunks are not lockable -- a stipulation of that license -- the company initially expected few female guests. But over 70% are women.

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