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January 24, 2022 5 min read
In the past few years, Japanese pop culture, both fresh and offbeat, has become more popular than ever.
Among the fans of manga, J-pop, video games and other Japanese goods, some individuals are caught up in an all-consuming, even frenetic passion.
Otaku is the Japanese term used to describe a person who devotes all his or her free time to a hobby. You know, the kind of person who prefers comics or music to people. In the US, this term is rather applied to manga and japanime lovers.
So, what is an Otaku, what does it look like and how is it considered? Let's focus on this mysterious energetic person who is totally fond of Japanese pop culture.
In Japanese, "o" is an honorific prefix and "taku" means "house" or "home". Originally, "Otaku" was a respectful expression to address someone politely. Over time, the meaning of the word has evolved.
"Otaku", in Japan, is a rather mocking term for a socially maladjusted individual, who keeps himself busy with indoor activities while staying at home. Sort of like a nolife! Note that the neologism was popularized by the journalist Akio Nakamori who was the first to use it. In fact, it is the equivalent of the geek and nerd in the Western culture, but that' s not all...
In the land of the rising sun, the expression refers to both pop culture enthusiasts and people who are so obsessed with something that they forget about their social life. Not very flattering!
As for the Western culture, the definition is a bit different and much less pejorative. It concerns a person addicted to Japanese pop culture. At the same time, many fans of manga and Japanese anime have been emerging over the last few decades. These new western otakus, more passionate than withdrawn, are reviving the image of the big, pimply, slightly perverse Japanese geek.
To spot an Otaku in the United States, it's very simple. Here are some signs, or rather clichés, that won't be mistaken.
Generally speaking, this is someone who spends most of his or her time on that favorite activity. In addition to being highly educated on the specific topic, he or she is also interested in the upcoming release of a product and eagerly waiting for that moment.
In the most extreme cases, an Otaku rarely leaves home, except to attend an event dedicated to their favorite hobby, such as the Japan Expo, for example.
There exists numerous communities of otakus on forums and social networks. Thus, an Otaku is not as unsociable as one might think and often has many friends (theoretically speaking).
Some otakus are inspired by the look of their favorite character and imitate its hairstyle or fashion style, others wear a t-shirt with its effigy. In general, otakus are genuine collectors of goodies, much to the delight of merchants who rush to make derivative products.
He or she can spend hours talking to you about their favorite video game or cartoon (even if you are not interested ;-) ). Not to mention the big j-pop fans who repeat the songs and choreographies of their idols over and over again without getting bored.
An Otaku can use strange expressions coming straight from his universe. And finally, it happens that he or she falls in love with a fictional character.
Well, let's get out of the stereotypical stuff: otakus can look like quite ordinary people, like you and me, and they know how to hide their passion (addiction) very well.
The manga culture, the world of anime and video games are very much present among otakus.
Among the most popular pastimes, we can mention the reading of mangas of all kinds, from shonen to seinen, passing by josei and hentai for the most naughty. Dragon-Ball, Naruto, etc. were responsible for initiating many manga otaku.
Japanese anime are popular too: Death Note, Attack on Titan, One Piece, the great anime movies of Miyazaki, etc. also have their fanatics.
Video games are part of the otaku culture. Often derived from manga or anime, they fascinate many geeks.
J-pop and its idols seduces many teenagers, but not only... Sometimes the 30-year-olds, nostalgic for boy-bands, are the ones who are the most hysterical.
Some otakus are ready to spend months (years) making the costume of their favorite character. They attend events and conventions where their work can be admired.
Illustration of a "hikikomori" room This Japanese term refers to people who don't leave their room for weeks, months or even years. Credits: CatSalinas on DeviantArt.com
If in the US otakus fully assume their passion, it is different in Japan. A few years ago, being an Otaku was frowned upon in the Land of the Rising Sun.
As we have mentioned before, this word was used to describe people who were not very sociable and closed-minded, who, by cutting themselves off from the world, did not participate in the collective interest. In the eyes of the Japanese, the Otaku is a kind of rebel. However, with the Western influence, the image of the Otaku has evolved in Japan.
In spite of a persistent negative connotation, this term is nowadays used to designate a person who is passionate about a specific field and ironically half of Japanese people consider themselves as such. The unhealthy maniac is now called Kimo-ota and the antisocial person who doesn't leave home is a Hikikomori.
Whereas the Otaku is just a fan of manga or Japanese cartoons, sometimes a bit of a geek on the edges, the Weeb or Weeaboo is a person of Western origin, totally obsessed with Japanese culture. This person absolutely loves Japan and would dream of living in the archipelago, however his extreme obsession tends to monomania. Besides, the word Weeb is often used to ridicule Westerners fond of Japanese culture.
Besides the meaning of the words that are controversial on the subject, know that there is nothing wrong with being an Otaku, as long as you lead a healthy life and remain open-minded. No offense to those who don't know what to do with their time. How about you, do you consider yourself an Otaku?
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