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Published on 06.07.2016
What is ‘Otaku’?
The word ‘otaku’ was coined by columnist Akio Nakamori in 1983. The word derives from Nakamori’s discovery that many people with particular interests in computing and trains would often call other fans with the same interest ‘otaku’, which in Japanese is a polite, formal way to refer to someone else. Instead of ‘you’ it means more ‘your house’, making it a distant and quite impersonal way to talk to another person. The ‘otaku’ name caught on in Japan and is now a catch all term for people who have an obsessive interest in a niche subject, though in general it would be for extreme fans of Japanese cartoons (anime), comic books (manga) or video games.
The negative past
Otaku at first was a label with negative connotations, some of them still lingering today. The media portrayed them as being lazy and unemployed with abnormal obsessions over technology and anime. A high profile criminal case in the 80s would be referred to in the media as “The Otaku Murderer” which strengthened public distaste that came with the otaku label.
Acceptance as a subculture
In more recent decades the media has relaxed their views, partially because the otaku subculture has grown into a phenomenon within the population despite previous portrayals – a study in 2013 by Nomura Research Institute estimated that the otaku market had a population of 1.72 million with a value of 411 billion yen. The general consensus of otaku in Japan is that if they are bothering no one, then it doesn’t matter what their interests are. People, especially young adults, are more comfortable to identify as an otaku, and the previous stereotypes of otaku are generally not considered.
Akihabara; the otaku mecca
Akihabara was established as the ‘Electric town’ of Tokyo as early as the 1930s since many shops were selling household electronics, such as televisions, washing machines, audio devices and so on. In the 1980s home computers took the place of electronics in Akihabara shops and many stores specialised in selling computer parts. This change brought in a new group of customers: computer enthusiasts or ‘otaku’, in the town.
Akihabara, or Akiba as it’s called nowadays, became the centre of the Otaku subculture. Shops specialising in anime, manga, games and other collectibles stand in rows on the main street and the area attracts not only Otaku people but also tourist from all around the world.
Source: Rachel and Jun (Youtube)