From Japan: Who Are These “Otaku”?


In past blogs, you probably heard us refer to certain individuals as otaku.  Who are these people, anyway?  Well, it’s a difficult term to translate.  If you look up the word in a Japanese-English dictionary, you’ll find a variety of expressions like “geek,” “nerd,” or even “trekkie,” which gives you some idea.  Though that’s not a clear-cut translation.

In a nutshell, otaku are people with an obsessive hobby.  The word itself is derived from “o” which is originally an honorific term, and “taku” meaning either “home” or “family.”  The term was meant to be uncomplimentary, insinuating these people never go out and socialize, but instead spend all their time at home with their hobby.  Even today, there is a general sense of negativity towards the otaku, with few exceptions.

So, what are they obsessed over?

OtakuA traditional otaku is obsessed with anime, manga and video games.  Though recently, the term geemaa (gamer) has surfaced, separating video games and leaving only the anime and manga part.  So, a stereotypical otaku spends their time at home in a bedroom filled with female anime character posters and figures, watching anime or reading comics, and only going outside to read more comics at a “manga cafe” or spend time with a few other otaku friends, shopping in places like Akihabara.  They normally don’t care about fashion, wear a bandana over their head (usually with anime characters on them) and carry backpacks to fill with whatever manga or anime items they’ve purchased.  They don’t make eye contact, lack social skills, and prefer to be alone with their hobby.  This, of course, is the stereotype.  However, you’d be surprised when wandering around in Akihabara, how many people you see who fit this description to a T.

Over the years, there have been other “types” of otaku.  There’s the densha otaku (train otaku) who love standing around stations and taking pictures of trains as

they go by.  The aidoru otaku (idol otaku) or now more commonly called wota for short, are obsessed with Japanese idols, like AKB48 or Miku Hatsune.  And recently, the rekijo (shortened form of “history” and “women”) can be seen at popular historical sites, taking pictures and copying down notes on famous Japanese Shogun and Samurai.  But despite this variety, when someone announces they’ve spotted an otaku lurking about, it usually means they’re obsessed with anime and manga.

So maybe they’re not the most stylish people, or lack a set number of friends on their Facebook accounts, but they’re happy with their obsessions.  And maybe that’s what life is all about.