All the manga in Japan

One ray of sunlight amid the gloom: I’m starting to think about a trip to Japan later this year. Perhaps I can write more about this later. At the moment, though, it has inspired a small diversion…

In the spirit of the What If series by Randall Munroe, and prompted by a (mostly) joking suggestion from comics’ #1 fan, I feel like investigating

What if I bought all the manga in Japan?

This feels like a question that pleads to become a catchphrase, at the very least; move over “all the tea in China.” I am confident that “all the manga” offers, at the very least, a valid synonym for “a lot.” As for greater precision than this…

Obviously it’s complicated. In theory there should be a real answer, in that I’m thinking about real physical objects; if we took all of the manga in Japan right at this moment and counted it up, it should be entirely possible to determine its weight and volume, at least. (Price would be much more complex even in theory.) There is some inevitable gray area, though, introduced by questions of “what counts as manga.” That of course is just theory, never mind practice.

In practice, to cut to the chase, I’m largely just going to make some things up and try to come up with a figure that (once more with Munroe as my model) at least offers some order-of-magnitude accuracy, probably. If nothing else, I’m curious whether it’s conceivable that “all the manga” could be loaded into a single container ship. Or even some plausibly low number of them. It wouldn’t shock me… but then again I could be way off. Let’s start estimating…

First, Japan is home to around 126 million people. This is probably the most reliable number in this whole exercise. Therefore it doesn’t seem entirely mad to stray from it as modestly as possible, and focus on guessing how much manga Japan contains per citizen, then use simple multiplication.

I have no more than a vague idea how much manga there is in Japan per person… But I can form at least some notion of a range using logical deduction. I mean, comics are relatively popular in Japan so more than one volume seems like a sound low end. At the other extreme, I doubt that there is so much as a room full of manga per person.

Even a bookshelf full of manga per person seems on the high side, given my understanding of Japanese dwellings. Lots of people may read enough manga to fill a bookshelf, but I can’t believe that great numbers of them keep all of it on shelves at home. I think that a good deal of manga is still like the more disposable comics of the western Silver Age and earlier, i.e. cheap paper, lowish retail price (unlike America’s modern industry). I’m guessing that a substantial chunk of yearly product is recycled?

Anyway, I had an appealing thought after I began puzzling over this: maybe it’s about an armful per person?

This is obviously not a precise figure, but the idea of about as much manga per person as most people could carry with them at one time is attractive. It’s probably off, but I’m not sure it’s wildly off. It falls neatly within my limits-of-plausibility range. So let’s proceed with it.

As it happens, this is about as much manga as I own. (Which doesn’t prove much because I have many more comics total, and I’m not Japanese, and of course I’m making stuff up anyway etc., etc.) At any rate I can weigh it, and price it!

If you filled a paper grocery bag with all of my manga*, it would weigh about 21 pounds. By volume, I guess it would be somewhere between 1.5 and 2 cubic feet. By cover price it would add up to $474. As I can tell you and as your own experience probably confirms, books’ cover prices are potentially more completely made-up than all the rest of these numbers, but one thing at a time…

This is, though, probably the time to consider whether or not I should adjust any of these numbers. No idea really. But, just in case libraries, stores etc. bump up the per capita figure significantly, why don’t I just add… uhmmmm… 30%.

So, we’ll call it 2.275 cubic feet of manga, weighing 27.3 pounds, with a cover price of $616.20… multiplied by 126 million people. Equals…

  • 286,650,000 cubic feet
  • 3,439,800,000 pounds
  • $77,641,200,000.00

Can I bring all of that home? Container ships are unbelievably large, and getting larger; the internet suggests that the largest have blown past 10,000 TEUs in capacity so this conveniently round number is entirely reasonable. Meanwhile, the TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) conveniently uses good old non-metric measurements, so we can declare that a one-TEU shipping container holds 1,360 cubic feet. So, 286,650,000 divided by 1,360 results in 210,772 TEUs.**

So, we can probably conclude that I am not going to send home “all the manga” on a single container ship, or even on five. I’ve skipped weight here, also, presuming that you could get away with stuffing shipping containers with manga; if you can’t then it might push the number up a bit more, but while paper does get heavy there are plenty of heavier goods…

Anyway, all this having been said, Wikipedia (on which I’ve tried not to over-rely here, but I’m nearing the end) claims that the Port of Los Angeles’s total “container volume [processed?] was 7.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in calendar year 2013.” I’m not even going to attempt to crunch this number because it isn’t even close to being close. Realistically, while it would take a lot of ships and/or trips… dozens does not seem out of the question… there are many many many many very big ships in the modern merchant flee.

I conclude that I definitely could send back “all the manga,” without even approaching a Civilization Great Project scale of “theoretically possible,” presuming that I could negotiate its purchase and delivery.

For my final feat of hand-waving, I’m going to propose that the difference between inflated cover prices and a bulk purchase would more or less balance out the costs of getting all the manga onto ships, sending them to the US and then unloading the contents and delivering them to the Chicago suburbs. (Given that lots of books sold in America are printed in Asia, and that the inflated cover price therefore includes at least transoceanic shipping and North American distribution, I don’t think this is any more nonsensical than the rest of this post.)

So, price tag for “all the manga” is around $80 Billion? That seems fairly cheap, but then, this is basically just ink on paper; it isn’t like I’m talking about original art or copyright. I still doubt it would be enough to motivate everyone to sell. I doubt I would part with all my comics if offered cover price for them… I might think about it given that many could undoubtedly be replaced for less than cover price… but I’m sure plenty of people would decline. I have, however, interpreted “all the manga” to mean every volume of manga; if we didn’t need say every single copy of Lone Wolf & Cub vol. 1, $80 Billion would probably go a great deal further, even on a bad day.

Entirely far enough to provide me with a nice fraction-of-a-percent commission, which would come in handy. No matter how I handled it I would probably need a longer stay in Japan in order to arrange sales and delivery… but hurrying back to work would no longer be an issue…

Oh: the potential deliveree of all the manga has recently launched a Patreon campaign. I can’t promise that he’ll spend proceeds on any serious pursuit of all the manga, but I think I can suggest that he will actually use them on better ideas than that anyway. 🙂

* In addition to the 28-volume edition of Lone Wolf & Cub, we have vol. 1 of Samurai Executioner, volumes 6-8 of Astro Boy, Phoenix: Dawn, 7 volumes of Nausicaa, and Ghost in the Shell 1, 1.5 and 2.

** Feel free to point out the likely basic errors in my math. Please, leave a comment. Any comment (that isn’t spam).

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