Otaku is a common name for avid fans who delve deeper into popular culture and other fields of interest. They devote their time and resources to their favorite things and activities. Most of them don’t share the same characteristics. This gives a vague and generalized meaning to the word. It is also called numa (沼) or “swamp” in Japanese internet culture.
The word ”otaku” has a negative connotation in Japan. In Japan, people hated being called such since the public is prejudiced against them. Media and news outlets would often release degrading reports about otaku culture.
The stereotypical male otaku mostly depicted in media are called kimoota (キモオタ) or “disgusting geek”. They have an unkempt appearance, unpleasant behavior, and lack social skills. Another negative stereotype for otaku is the social recluse called hikikomori (引きこもり).
Japanese popular culture also depicts otaku as relatable main characters. Examples of such characters in Japanese fiction are Keima Katsuragi from The World God Only Knows, Kirino Kousaka from Oreimo, Konata Izumi from Lucky Star, Narumi Momose from Wotakoi, Shinpachi Shimura from Gintama, and Youji Itami from GATE.
Otaku (オタク) roughly translates into “geek” or “nerd” in the West. They are more of a fan rather than the classical academe type of nerd. A related word with otaku but has a different meaning is otaku (お宅) or “someone’s home”. Their stereotypical behavior is acting as if they are still at home while disregarding their surroundings. It can be written as ヲタク but it has a degrading implication. It is abbreviated as wota (ヲタ).
A Brief History
The first usage of the word “otaku” was seen in 1983. It came from an article Otaku no kenkyuu (おたくの研究) or “Otaku Research” by columnist Akio Nakamori. According to the article, science fiction and anime fans were increasing as popular culture became more accessible. Most otakus at that time were youths and adolescents. The early descriptions for otaku were quite derogatory due to their quirky enthusiasm for manga, anime, and technology. Editor-in-chief Eiji Otsuka discontinued Otaku no kenkyuu due to negative connotations and prejudice to otaku. Readers filed complaints as they felt attacked by the article.
In Japan, an incident in 1988 ruined the reputation of otaku to the public consciousness. 4 girls went missing and only their remains were discovered by the police. The mysterious “Otaku Killer” was identified as the late Tsutomu Miyazaki. He was a mentally disturbed man with poor social skills. He never had a good relationship with his family except for his grandfather. His first hobby as a youth was drawing manga. Upon reaching college, he had a hobby of taking erotic photos of women and young girls. The tipping point of his life was the death of his grandfather, who was the only person who cared for him. After his grandfather’s death, he started kidnapping girls, murdering them, violating their cadaver, and claiming parts of their body and clothing as trophies. He even sent body parts of his victims to their parents. Tons of anime tapes, slasher films, pieces of his victims’ clothing, homemade films, and the corpse of his fourth victim were discovered in his apartment after he was captured. He was deemed sane and well aware of his actions despite him claiming to have multiple personalities. He was executed by hanging in 2008. The incident had a negative impact on the anime industry due to the moral panic it caused.
Miyazaki’s fascination for anime and hentai led the Japanese media to demonize anime and the otaku culture. Actual otaku and anime fans have dissociated themselves from Miyazaki. They argued that anime does not directly cause violence and sexually predatory behavior.
The latter part of the 1990s saw the growth of otaku culture. The availability of manga, anime, cellphones, personal computers, and even government posters fuelled the development of otaku culture. Social events like cosplay also helped otaku groups to congregate in public spaces. They also share their interests to fellow fans and bystanders alike.
The general modern description for an otaku is someone who consumes Japanese popular culture. They would collect merchandise from popular cultures such as manga, anime, music, movies, cosplay, video games, and idols. Before, they were a niche community of anime fans. They soon gained public presence as the market for popular culture expanded. The negative perception against them still lingered but later mellowed down. Unlike in Japan, Western fans take pride in the label as such. It is still the minority of the Japanese population despite gaining attention. Even so, they contribute to the propagation of popular culture and the economy.
Otaku, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/オタク, Retrieved 08 March 2021
Otaku, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/ヲタク, Retrieved 08 March 2021
nyao, 『おたく』の研究 第１回, 漫画ブリッコの世界, http://www.burikko.net/people/otaku01.html, 16 December 2013
Serena, Katie, Meet Tsutomu Miyazaki, Japan’s Disturbing Otaku Killer, All That’s Interesting, https://allthatsinteresting.com/tsutomu-miyazaki, 18 August 2019, Retrieved 08 March 2021
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