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Otaku Positive Effect On The Japanese Culture Media Essay

"I believe otaku are a new breed born in the 20th century visual culture era. In
other words, otaku are people with a viewpoint based on an extremely evolved se
nsitivity toward images."
- Toshio Okada, Introduction to Otakuology
Otaku is one of Japanese popular cultures. The term otaku is used in the Japanes
e environment to refer to someone who is an extremely obsessive fan of something
. It is a person that is devoted to something - anime, manga, movies, music, com
puter gadgets, computer games, and other fields of interest. Literally, it means
"your home" or "you" in formal terms. However, these meanings are from my point
of view - not an otaku, nor an otaku expert - what is otaku really all about? I
n this research paper, many aspects of otaku will be discussed: Its history as w
ell as the effect of otaku on the Japanese culture, economy and even around the
world. Most importantly, the paper is also going to discuss the negative connota
tion of this term which was rampant in Japan in the late 80's. Even though negat
ive image of the otaku still exist in the Japanese society today, the otaku has
many positive effects in the Japanese culture, the economy and the promotion of
Japanese art and culture around the world.
History of the Otaku
The Otaku is very rampant today in international countries like US and Taiwan. I
t is a term that has many different meanings, interpretations, positive and nega
tive connotations for every society. In the "The Origins of "Otaku", it was disc
ussed that many accounts have been "vaguely consistent" with how the term otaku
was associated with anime and manga fans. Also, it was reported that Journalist
Akio Nakamori was the first person to publicly write about otaku as related to s
trange and obsessive fans. Nakamori said that these fans called each other otaku
- which he believes to be an extremely formal way of saying "you" (Eng). Willia
m Gibson calls otaku "passionate obsessive(s)". Volker Grassmuck describes them
as "information fetishists". Lawrence Eng defined it to be "Self-defined cyborgs
". All of the definitions fall down to the term "obssession".
Many authors tried to define Otaku more specifically. Here are some of the defin
itions, Rebecca Scudder reported that there are different otaku subcultures, ran
ging from people devoting themselves to anime, manga, computer games, movies, ra
dio, and other fields of interest(1). The culture has however continued to sprea
d wide within the country and even internationally. Also, she said that in the U
S, otaku means the popular subculture that is devoted to anime and manga (1). La
wrence Eng noted that there are some Otaku, who use the term as a reference to t
hemselves or their friends in a humorous manner. This group makes effort to recl
aim the term from negative association. Most Japanese would be reluctant to be r
eferred to by this term especially in serious circumstances (Scudder, 2). Karl T
aro Greenfield stated that for an otaku, information is the fuel that drives the
ir "worshipped dissemination systems". Furthermore, for an otaku, the only thing
that matters is the accuracy of the answer and not its relevance. He said that
no tiny little piece is trivial for them. Also, the object is not important for
them, but the information is the heart of the matter. These are some of the defi
nitions of Otaku as from a researcher's point of view. However, there are also s
ome views that define it in a larger point of view such as that of the society.
Otaku's negative image in the Japanese society
The Otaku exists as a negative element of the Japanese society, which is an unre
asonable and unfair judgement to give them. Otaku was an underground market in t
he beginning. No one wanted to be associated with the otaku. In Japan, the otaku
was treated with intense negativity. For years, it was associated with depressi
ng and downbeat colors. Lawrence Eng suggested that this was due to the growing
anxiety of the Japanese adult society - which thinks that the present young gene
ration is growing more individualistic and isolated. Furthermore, that the young
generation is not willing to fulfill mainstream duties and responsibilities for
the country such as studying and working or finding a job(Eng). Also, the otaku
has been associated with the alienation and isolation of the youth (Stenberg, 1
91). Media has also played a big role in building otaku's negative image. Accord
ing to Rebecca Scudder who reported that in 1983, Japanese media portrayed otaku
with varying degrees of mockery. Otaku was labeled as antisocial, overweight, a
nd unpopular - the typical description of nerds and geeks in the US. Otaku was s
tereotyped as the persons who lived with a huge collection of their mania, unwil
ling to leave the house or get a job (2).
With all the negativity of otaku building during the eighties, one incident real
ly highlighted the negative image of otaku. In 1989, a psychopath named Tsutomu
Miyazaki kidnapped, assaulted and murdered 4 little children (Scudder, 2). Polic
e labeled him as otaku because they found a huge collection of anime and manga i
n his apartment (Eng). Some of the manga were pornographic which added fuel in t
he fire. Rebecca Scudder stated that Miyazaki was popularized by the media as an
"otaku murderer" (2). This was the start of the "otaku panic", as stated by Kin
sella, that led to the association of the otaku to sociopaths like Miyazaki (qtd
. by Lawrence Eng). The media accounted this deviant behavior on anime and manga
, which led to the revulsion and panic (Eng). Since this incident, the "otaku" h
it the mainstream with mostly derogatory remarks with strong hints of fear and l
oathing (Eng). Takashi Murakami, a self-confessed otaku and famous otaku/pop art
ist, acknowledged that the otaku culture is discriminated in against in Japan. T
his negative connotation has been generalized to all the otaku. Takashi Murakami
said in an interview that when the police revealed Miyazaki's room, it was just
like an exact replica of his room. What he means is that, manga and anime are n
ot the ones that are responsible for the deviant behaviour of Miyazaki. Murakami
suggested that Miyazaki is a loser who lacked the "critical ability of accumula
ting enormous information in order to survive and win at a debate among otaku."
Azuma suggested that to understand the structure of Japanese post-modernity, one
must understand the factors that led to the neglect of the otaku culture (1).
These factors are:
The association of otaku to the famous serial killer, Miyazaki
The otaku has an existing strong collective hostility against those who do not s
hare the same interests with them.
Azuma suggested that their introversive and defensive tendencies can be thought
of as a kind of inevitable reaction against social pressures.
The "socio-psychological problem of Japanese post-war identity"
Azuma stated that the Japanese had an existing difficulty after the Second World
War to be able to evaluate and be proud of its own culture (1).
These negative connotations affected the Otaku so much, but definitely, these wa
ys of definition and seeing things is not proven. They do not have concrete argu
ments and proofs that Otaku is a negative culture.
Positive effects of the Otaku on the Japanese culture
There are many positive effects of the Otaku on the Japanese culture, as well as
internationally. These positive effects are proven and are validated by concret
e facts. First, looking at what Otaku means from their own perspective gives und
erstanding on the real views of the Otaku. From a previous point, information is
what is crucial for an otaku. But what does otaku really mean from an otaku's p
erspective? When and where did the otaku started? And how did it really shape th
e Japanese culture and society.
The Otaku is a misunderstood in most times because of the different changes in t
he history of Japan. To be able to understand the effects it has on the Japanese
culture, one must understand first the history and definitions of the word from
the otaku themselves. Hiroki Azuma stated that the otaku is a "new cultural gro
up" that emerged in 1970's. It consists of "enthusiastic" consumers that were fa
scinated by different post-war Japanese subcultures, such as anime, manga, compu
ter games, gadgets, music, movies, and so on (1). Hiroki Azuma discussed that ot
aku is one of the most important factors in the analysis of the Japanese Contemp
orary culture. He added that this was because the otaku's mentalities have great
ly influenced the Japanese society. Murakami's superflat conceptualities are bei
ng accounted to the artistic quality of the otaku sensibilities.
Hiroki Azuma discussed that otaku culture is claimed to be a cultural successor
of the pre-modern Japanese traditions, specifically the Edo tradition. This succ
ession theory was emphasized by otaku critics, Toshio Okada and Eiji Otsuka. How
ever, according to Azuma, the otaku culture should be accounted to the recent "d
omestication" of post-war American culture. Furthermore, Azuma claimed that the
otaku culture is essentially "nationalistic", which was developing at the same t
ime with the "Japanese rapid economical growth and the recovery of national self
-confidence in 1950s and 1960s" (1). Therefore, the Otaku culture is positive, i
n the sense that it was made to promote nationalism. Examples of this nationalis
tic view are:
Spaceship Yamato (TV anime film - 1970's) which is claimed to be an imitation of
the pre-war Japanese military (Azuma, 1).
Saber Marionette J (TV anime film) which was claimed to be an allegory abstracte
d from an actual otaku situation (Azuma, 1).
For an otaku, examination of the content is a very crucial task. Information is
the heart of their goals. Azuma discussed further that the otaku culture has two
layers of simulacra and database. This means that an otaku does not only apprec
iate the superficial design aesthetically. An otaku immediately decomposes the i
mage into many elements and "feels zeal" to reassemble them up into another char
acter (2). Promoting nationalism is a positive thing. From these facts and descr
iptions, we can say that the Otaku contributed to these nationalist views.
How the Otaku changed the Japanese culture
The Otaku has changed the Japanese culture in the most unthinkable ways. It star
ted internationally, then eventually, was slowly accepted in the society. In 199
1, some interesting modern approach to the Otaku culture has surfaced. The devel
opment - Otaku no Video (Studio Gainax animation production) - that has given ri
se to a profound interest on the otaku culture. It has also reduced the negative
perception and even stereotypes previously associated with the culture thereby
increasing the acceptability of the otaku culture and the associated hobbies. Af
ter that, the culture has been used by some political leaders to promote the sta
te of Japan to the international community. Even the former Prime Minister of Ja
pan Taro Aso claimed himself to be an otaku (Scudder, 2). After the worldwide re
lease of the film in 1992, fans - US, Great Britain, France, Canada - began to u
se otaku as a term to describe themselves.
The Otaku sensation paved way for the creation of a hit novel, Train Man. This p
romoted self-confidence in one's culture. Everyone has a right to be proud of hi
mself, be it an Otaku or not. In 2004, Train Man, a novel by Hitori Nakano, was
popularized worldwide because of its unusual love theme. It has also been made i
nto a TV and animation series. It focuses on the love complications of a compute
r geek (otaku). It portrays another side of the otaku that made the computer ota
ku popular. It showed that geeks also have hearts. They are capable of communica
ting, however there arises difficulties. The novel shows that even computer geek
s can change for the better. Carlo Santos described it as a novel that pictures
a young man's journey from self-deprecation to self-confidence. This gave the ot
aku culture a light to promote that they are nowhere near the negative connotati
ons attached to them (1). Confidence in one's culture is another positive effect
that the Otaku contributed in the Japanese society.
Effects of the Otaku in the International Scene
The otaku made a successful new market culture in the international scene. From
US back to Asia, Otaku has become a craze, shaping the minds of other cultures.
Anthony Chatfield reported that anime first appeared in the US market in the 60'
s in the form of Kimba the White Lion and Astroboy. However, these did not earn
a favourable response. Only when Speed Racer arrived did the anime market was di
stinguished. This was the beginning of the consciousness that Japan was creating
something new and exciting. Although the popularity of Speed Racer was not comp
arable to its American contemporaries, it paved a way to introduce more Japanese
otaku to the international market. Different fanbases emerged - they were willi
ng to consume the latest offerings such as Starblazers and Robotech. However, th
e results were mostly underground (1).
In 1989, Akira was released internationally and the effect was booming. The inte
rnational audience was eagerly waiting for more new releases from Japan (Chatfie
ld, 1). In Japan, this was a major business expansion. Shows like Gundam and Dra
gon Ball overgrew and made runway sensations. The manga industry also expanded a
long with the anime industry (Chatfield, 1). The international effects of the Ot
aku are worth mentioning and needs praise.
Effects of the otaku in the Japanese Economy
The international hit booming of the Otaku led to the advances and innovations i
n the Japanese economy. The Otaku industry is becoming more and more successful
in the development of the economy through the international self-acclaimed Otaku
s. In 1990's, the anime became mainstream in Japan. Examples were the monumental
runs of Dragonball, which had 156 episodes and Dragonball Z, which had 276 epis
odes. The Japanese otaku economy boomed, earning companies billions of yen, acqu
iring commercial sponsorships, and funding vast incredible projects that require
sums of money to complete (Chatfield, 2).
In 1995, American producers saw the huge effect of the anime market happening in
Japan. They tried marketing some of these anime - Dragonball Z and Sailormoon -
in the air. Then, Neon Genesis Evangelion release in Japan and show releases in
the US made the otaku interest roar abroad (Chatfield, 3).
In 1998, the Gameboy conquered the American market along with the enormously pop
ular Pokemon anime. Films began to pour liberally in the US, at that time, the f
ansub scene was the only way to access some of the more obscure titles that are
currently released in Japan. As the market boomed, so did the licensing of major
companies. This was the beginning of the final and full assimilation of Japanes
e pop culture into American (Chatfield, 3).
Nowadays, anime products and merchandise are rampant in the isle of supermarkets
. The Anime Network also gained its growing success. Magazines such as Japanese
trade magazines for the anime industry has now been translated and marketed in t
he US. Even American director James Cameron is fond of the manga named Battle An
gel Alita (Chatfield, 4).
This is a clear picture that otaku has made a big step in advancing Japanese art
and culture in the international market. Furthermore, the marketing volumes of
the Japanese anime and manga proved to be a big advancement, as well as achievem
ent, in the Japanese economy.
The otaku craze has also infected Taiwan and other neighboring countries. When c
ompared with the Taiwan's Otaku, the perception to otaku is different from the t
radition Japanese stereotyping. The Taiwanese otaku emerged in the 1990s. During
this period, the computers and internet had gained acceptability and wide range
of usage. The usage of this technology had gained unmatched popularity that was
not there prior to this period. The otaku was basically viewed as a group of co
nsumers who had preference for some given obsession. This group exhibited craze
for anime, some games and manga.
People have created new things based on their common interest and obsession. The
y otaku have to spend money to meet their obsession. This had led to creativity
as this people strive to satisfy their obsession and fantasies. The otaku have b
een found to be fewer prizes sensitive when comparison is made with other consum
ers. They have formed communities through online or using internet as medium of
interaction. It has been evidenced that among the otaku, the information is exch
anged rather fast.
Jack Hsu reported that the Taiwan otaku is at its consumption stage, meaning, th
ey rather consume than produce their own anime or manga. Furthermore, he reporte
d that the Taiwanese otaku show extremely high preferences towards Japanese Cult
ural commodities. Taiwanese otaku were found to consume Japanese productions suc
h as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Spreading Excitement All over the World with the H
aruhi Suzumiya Brigade, Densha Otoko, Akihabara @ Deep and KERORO. Because of th
is success and popularity, the otaku was popularized as a huge market. And for a
true otaku, a price does not matter. In other words, otaku was treated as a new
group of mass consumers. Thus, this gives another boom for the Japanese marketi
ng economy.
The generation gap associated with stereotypes and the otaku has been fading. Th
e resistance toward the otaku culture also seems to have considerably weathered.
This is because, some of the product that were originally associated with the o
taku have become domesticated and publicly acceptable. The otaku have been consi
dered as a general group of what can be referred to as mass consumers. Attention
should also be paid to the potential for creativity that is likely to be derive
d from the otaku. To many, the otaku culture is associated with mystery. The ota
ku became obsessed with some hobbies, which became part of them. The otaku use t
he media and materials to craft a self and even space. The otaku emerged out of
young people conviction that through animation, they could influence the next ge
neration (Dave, 27). This was born out of frustration and boredom. A lot of peop
le and especially the youth were displaced. The economic potential and the creat
ivity of otaku only gained appreciation at the turn of the millennium. The otaku
culture became appreciated in Japan. The otaku culture has many positive effect
s especially since the time it gained popularity in Japan and the world over (Fl
emming et al., 60). These were evident in the American otaku industry and the Ta
iwan otaku market industry. The otaku culture has also gone revolution associate
d with the modern and the post modernity period. There were fundamental conditio
ns that changed culture associated with capitalism. This change was attributed t
o the late capitalist societies that included the Japan, the European countries
and the American. The changes were consequently accompanied by the transformatio
n of many areas of cultural production. (Azuma, 10). The Otaku culture is proven
to effectively develop and advance the Japanese economy through the internation
al fan scenes.
The Otaku in spite of the wrong negative connotations that are associated with i
t, grew to be the one promoting nationalism, international applause, and economi
c development. The otaku culture has therefore played a significant role, both a
s the consumers of the popular culture and also as producers of this culture. Th
ey are also consumers and producers of the mass media products (Steinberg et al,
191). Iles furthered the idea that the otaku are intimate
representatives of contemporary Japan. The Otaku is not of the mainstream. Howev
er, the otaku who stand as avatars of the Japanese consumer in fact play an impo
rtant role in qualifying the nature of postmodern consumption. The otaku has pro
ved to be effective representatives in the promotion, growth and expansion in th
e Japanese culture, the economy and the promotion of Japanese art and culture ar
ound the world.