OTAKU

Sons and Daughters of the Virtual Age

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Otaku is the honorific word of Taku (home).

Otaku is often associated with an extremely negative image as it is used to refer to someone who stays at home all the time and doesn’t have significant social or love life. They are seen a someone who pass the time by watching anime, reading mangas, playing videogames, surfing the internet (otaku is also used to refer to a nerd/hacker/programmer), or being a fan of a band, an actress, a singer or anyone who has achieve a certain popularity in one way or another for very various reasons. They are perceived as someone who become very specialized in one domain without making a living out of it. They are also perceived as someone who will be or hasn’t  been able of making it to adulthood.

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In the Western culture, people confuse otaku to be something positive like “Guru”. If you think about it, it’s not really good to be called a guru if it means you are a total loser who can’t socialize with other people except through the Internet.

Other Japanese words which have been confused by Westerners also include but not limited to: Anime, Manga, etc
otaku no jinsei ha yabai na! (it sucks to live the life of an otaku!)

The word Otaku is very related to one of an idol. A Japanese girl answered when asked ”What is an idol?” answers: ”For a guy it is someone to protect, for a girl it is someone she would like very very much to be friends with”. Hum… Right there it says a lot… I think this young lady tried to make it look like it’s a lot worst to be a male Otaku than a female Otaku. I felt listening to this that she wanted to make it look like male Otaku are much more and in a perverse way, addicted to their idol(s) than a girl who just ”wants to be friend” with her idol(s). If you watch the way the girls react when in presence of  one or more of their male idols, I wouldn’t say that this way of describing the matter is accurate….

The term “otaku” seems to have been introduced to anime fans in the US and other countries via Studio Gainax’s “Otaku no Video 1985,” a self-parody film.
Otaku, meaning probably “venerable house,” refers to someone who has a devotion to a subject or hobby (not necessarily anime) to the point of not leaving home. For instance, an otaku fan of a particular movie star could quite possibly know all of the films s/he has been in, their birth date, time of birth, shoe size, favorite toothpaste, etc. Generally speaking, calling someone an otaku in Japan is an insult, implying that their social skills have atrophied or never even developed, due to their manic involvement in their chosen fandom.In America, the term is used to denote a zealous fan, usually of anime and/or manga. Due to its introduction to most people’s vocabulary through its tongue-in-cheek use in Gainax’s film, “otaku” tends to have a much less dire definition overseas.When dealing with Japanese people, however, it may be best to keep in mind the modern Japanese image of an otaku — Someone who only leaves their home to eat or shop, if at all, with an overwhelming and unhealthy obsession about something. It can as easily refer to a stalker or sociopath as it can to a harmless anime buff.
     Under  a different angle, I have seen many times in various sources that Japanese children are asked to perform a lot, it goes without saying that even more is expected from them in adulthood. The passage to adulthood becomes a terrifying step to take for many. Otaku is seen by many as people who are afreaid to take that step and take refuge in childhood, clinging to childish hobbies that then become perceived as some kind of fetishism. You can easily see now why Otaky is so badly perceived in Japan. It’s sort of a rebellion against the Japanese values and is also seen as a very undignified way of doing so. I am not aking sides here. I am only exposing the way it is perceived in Japan and I am pretty sure any Japanese will say that I am at least 75% right. Of course I am not Japanese so I can barely grasp the magnitude of the unease that the Otaku phenomena has created, putting in question the very foundation of the Japanese traditional values. You might also see it as the result of  an exponential  growth of the wealth in Japan, a country that was barely making it before WW2 and that is now one of the countries that most if not all consider as a world economical force. Therefore leisure time and industries become very important in a country in which everyone as the means to afford spending money on stuff that is stricly for pleasure. That is one way of putting it but I think explaining the whole otaku social phenomena using only those arguments would be a huge mistake and missing very important considerations. Putting both together would for sure reveal a lot on why otaku became what it is and grew within the social Japanese way of life.  I do not know if it is still view with as much disdain now as it was a few years ago. I think otaku are seen at best now as some necessary evil that are tolerated, trying to keep a straight face while your teeth are grinding.
This is a very good documentary made in 1994 called simply ”Otaku” by French director Jean-Jacques Beineix (Betty Blue, Diva) but I could not find it in English. Here it is in French. It is very well made, goes very deep and explores many angles on the subject. You can always order it, it does have English subtitles on the DVD. Here it is in French for those who can understand it. Sorry.. It’s the best I could find.
I would like to finish by just saying that of course the bad reputation dragged by the term Otaku is of course related to Tsutomu Miyazaki a.k.a ”The Otaku Murderer” who killed 4 victims between 1988 and 1989.
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