In the 1960s, the Japanese health guru Sakurazawa Nyoiti captivated American audiences with his book called – ‘You Are all Sanpaku’, – Meaning you are all sick SOBS, so follow my program.
So in honour of Sakurazawa, I will paraphrase his title and name this article – ‘You are all Otaku‘
A meal with a friend in Yokohama
I was in a restaurant having a meal with an acupuncture friend – a guy from Osaka. Apparently Japanese from Osaka have a personality akin to Westerners. They are proud of themselves and can be quite forward or direct. They are not afraid to express their opinions. Some people derogatively refer to them as the tracksuit wearing chavs of Japan. I don’t know if that is true as I still haven’t been to Osaka, but I hope to do so in the future.
So I’ve been told that Osakans are loud and direct. This attitude is a bit different to the typical stereotype of the reserved and overly-polite Japanese, and especially people from Kanto region, who avoid standing out in public (except when drunk).
From a complimentary point of view, Osakans are also said to be very funny and have a good sense of humour. My friend Ishimaru was a good example of a funny guy from Osaka. However, the first time I met him I was a bit offended by him and I thought him a little rude. But once I got to know him, I came to like him as he seemed refreshingly more straight than a lot of other Japanese people I had encountered.
Some Japanese may act all friendly and even welcoming, but you can’t necessarily trust that because you don’t always know where you stand with them. You don’t really know what they are thinking. It’s basically too much ‘Wa’ (harmony), but that’s a different matter.
Encounters with Otaku
On a nearby table were two Otaku. Whilst this is nothing particularly special, what made them so noticeable was that they were so incredibly loud.
They were obviously having a good time and were talking enthusiastically, laughing and making a lot of noise. They were also completely oblivious to other restaurant customers as they laughed and joked.
At one point my companion from Osaka got so annoyed with having to speak above their voices that he started saying out insulting comments loudly, including the word ‘otaku’. After all, he’s from Osaka. They’re not afraid to speak out, even though it’s actually rude to call someone ‘otaku’.
But they didn’t pay any attention They were too engrossed in their conversation and having a good time. They didn’t give a damn.
I really didn’t mind being disturbed by their lively conversation. It true, they were really loud and we had to speak above their voices at times, but I found it interesting. Otaku invariably are.
What are otaku?
Otaku can be defined “people with an obsessive interests, usually towards anime or pop-idols”.
I suppose the closest translation would be “nerd” or “geek”, but these are really typical American terms. Perhaps these words don’t fully capture the meaning of the Japanese word ‘otaku’.
How to best define Otaku
There is more to otaku than ‘obsessive tendencies’.
For example, plenty of people could be said to have ‘obsessive interests’. In the UK, many people are absolutely obsessed with football. They collect all the shirts, game programmes, scarfs and other football paraphernalia. But you wouldn’t call them otaku.
Another example is sex. Some people are absolutely obsessed with sex, spending a fortune indulging in interests like bondage or domination sessions or collecting porn or toys. But neither would these people be classed as otaku.
I suppose the closest equivalent in the West to Otaku, is a person who is obsessed with Star Wars or Star Trek and collects all the toys, watches all the episodes many times and attends conventions in costume. These people could be classed as an otaku.
Also perhaps people who collect or make models of things like trains or World War II planes or ships could be classed as Otaku. Also Trainspotters (people who take pictures of trains) could be classed as Otaku. This kind of thing.
Otaku only relates to Japan
Despite this, I would say that otaku is a typically Japanese word and only really relates to people with an obsessive interest in Japanese anime, manga or pop-idols.
The Otaku Look
Otaku also have a very specific appearance that is unique only to Otaku.
Without going all David Attenborough on you, Otaku look a certain way. I don’t mean to be cruel, but it is stereotypically seen as uncool or unfashionable – or perhaps lacking a woman’s touch.
It is hard to define. They will wear new clothes, but their way of wearing it will make it unfashionable and unstylish. Their clothes will be badly-fitted or the wrong size for their body. If they wear a shirt, they will button it all the way to the top, which is universally recognised as being uncool (this doesn’t apply if it is a work-shirt with tie).
They may often carry a bag pack and carry it around both shoulders, which in itself is not a sign of dressing badly, but for some reason it comes across as uncool.
The same goes for trainers. They may wear new trainers, but something about it will come across as unfashionable. Perhaps its the choice of style, which doesn’t match with the rest of the clothes.
The Otaku factor
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what makes their look so distinguishable as Otaku. They can wear everyday brands, but their way of wearing them and combination make them incredibly uncool.
There will be other factors, bad haircuts, undeveloped physiques from lack of sports and a posture that conveys a lack of confidence e.g– stooped slumped shoulders as well as a lack of confidence in speaking with others and poor eye contact.
A main distinguishing factor is an intense interest in anime, manga or pop idols. They will collect huge amounts of paraphernalia, dolls, figurines, posters – basically anything related to their interest and decorate their rooms with it.
There is a popular Japanese book, movie and spin-off TV series about a romance between an otaku and an attractive young lady. It is called ‘Densha Ottoko”, which translates as ‘Train Man’. The picture above is from the movie. The man is an Otaku.
It is a story about a young Otaku who intervenes on a train, when a drunk salaryman passenger is being rude to a women. The story follows his awkward romance with the lady he rescues, who he calls “Hermes’, named after the gift of a Hermes Tea set she gives him as thanks.
Densha Ottako then tells his story on a website forum and gets support from the other posters who are sympathetic and want to help him. He admits on the forum that he has never had a girlfriend and asks for advice on what to wear and where to take her. He is able to build a following of online supporters who want him to succeed and who share his successes and failures along the way.
With the help of the forum members, he undergoes a huge transformation. He makes dramatic changes to his appearance and style and pushes himself to act against his fears. He makes progress in his relationship with Hermes.
What is positive about this story is that it is supposed to be based on a true story. And it is a good story of transformation and a desire to improve oneself.
The Positives of being an Otaku
Up to now in this article, I feel I have been unfairly cruel or critical of otaku. Actually, this is not my real opinion. I simply want to describe otaku as realistically as I can before I get into the body of this series of articles.
In society, otaku are looked down on. But I want to say that this is a mistaken judgement which actually reveals our own fears and weakness of character. I actually have a lot of respect for the otaku subgroup. I even recognise that I have certain otaku traits and that these are not bad things.
In fact, in these articles, I want you to consider that it is your inner otaku traits that holds the key to ‘not giving a damn’ – which is a very powerful feeling to have in this life.
Otaku are brave.
Otaku are actually much truer to themselves than most people. Also I think Otaku are cool and far braver than most people
The reason is because they are unafraid to express what they like. They don’t let society or people tell them what to wear, or what to like. They are part of a subculture.
Perhaps it is not that different to the punks in the 1970’s UK. They do what they like and don’t care. Except with the punks they had a ‘FU’ attitude and were not afraid to shove it in your face. With the Otaku, it’s more like – ‘this is what I like, and though you may look down on me, I will keep doing it because it gives me pleasure’ – kind of attitude.
And how many people dare to go through life with that attitude? Very few.
I know that I still have fears of what people may think of me. Or of being judged. But I really don’t want to care any more.
What is Normal?
“Otaku are not normal”, someone may criticise.
So, what is normal? I ask.
In my country, it is normal for young people to drink excessively and to take drugs at an early age. It is normal for young girls to wear practically nothing and then get so smashed on drink they collapse on the streets. It is normal for people to lose hours of their precious life watching TV soap-operas. That time is gone forever.
This is normal and we won’t criticise them, but how is that better than otaku? Otaku indulge their life in an interest. They are part of a community. They are also for the most part pretty passive. You won’t have arguments with otaku. They are not the kind that get into arguments or fights in a bar over nothing.
Perhaps, it’s their way of dealing with a hard world. It could be a normal response to an unbalanced world.
What we see as normal is kind-of abnormal – don’t you think?
I walk past a local pub everyday on my street. I enjoy a drink just like the next person, but moderately. Outside this pub I see the same faces, the same people almost every day. This is their hobby – drinking.
Yet society is more likely to criticise an otaku than a daily pub-goer. I suppose they are an easier target. The otaku doesn’t harm anyone and has a hobby that is quite creative. The daily pub-goer has none.
Where I’m going with these articles, is that the otaku has a lesson for us in how to stop caring about what others think of us and more specifically, to stop caring what society thinks of us. It is about expressing ourselves more naturally and enjoying life by taking it all less seriously.
So many of us go through life afraid to express our true natures. We hide or cover it up. We dare not show our interests, our loves or our hobbies openly. We hide and pretend that we are all the same as the next man or woman.
We sometimes let the young get away with it, but then as we get older we tell ourselves -its time to get serious. But perhaps, as we lose the inner otaku we lose the things that are associated with it – energy, expression and a free mind. Or in other words – youth.
End of Part One
Next, I will talk about our inner otaku. Click here for Part 2.
Picture accreditation: Image of the Movie ‘Densha Ottoko’. I took it off Google images. Sorry.