A few weeks ago a Korean otaku friend was visiting Japan, and I hooked up with him with another friend from Tokyo who works with us on visual novels. Since they had just met, the friend from Tokyo asked the newcomer, “So, what kind of otaku are you?” It seemed like an odd question, but my friend from Tokyo wanted to “classify” the new arrival so he could know what kinds of topics to discuss. “I’m about 75% manga, plus figures, plush toys, and when I have time, anime” my Korean friend replied.
The word otaku, of course, started off as a slightly quirky and formal word meaning “you or your family.” It assumed its current meaning thanks to Gainax, who made Otaku no Video, a genre-defining anime about a healthy, happy university student — a riajuu, though the term wasn’t coined back then — whose life descends into hell when he becomes an otaku, though he ends up happier in the end. For years, otaku was a pejorative term, and not something you boasted about too openly, but in recent years Japan has become much more understanding of people who take a hobby to an extreme point, even making TV programs that celebrate various flavors of “mania,” which has become a general term for all kinds of obsessions.
While you and I might mostly stick to anime, manga, cosplay, Gundam models or 2D idols for our core obsessions, it’s fun to explore the others that are out there…
- Of course, train otaku are quite a thing in Japan, and when I was a teaching English I had several students who could go on for hours about the history of their favorite rare train. One of the most popular trains is “Doctor Yellow,” a special diagnostic train that tests tracks for safety.
- There’s a whole TV show devoted to presenting rare mania, called Geki Rare-san o Tsurete Kita. A recent episode I watched was about a “bus otaku” who loved the classic busses of the Showa Era, so he bought one and restored it, and uses it to transport elderly people around his small town.
- As I mentioned in a post about Buddhism I made, there are quite a lot of young people obsessing over Buddhist art, visiting art exhibitions all over Japan. And rekijo (Japanese females who love Japanese history) have been a thing for years.
- Anime otakus are nothing new, but how about an anime soundtrack otaku? I know a guy who won’t watch an anime unless it’s opening or ending themes pull him in first.
- While researching my post on the death of Japanoligist and translator Donald Keene, I learned that there’s a healthy fandom built up for Bungou Stray Dogs, including many who were using the anime and manga to find writers from Japanese literature to explore more deeply.
- There are active fans of traffic lights in Japan. Yes, you read correctly.
- In Love and Lies, the main character is a kofun otaku, obsessing over Japan’s ancient burial mounds. I share this passion and have visited several ancient burial mounds around Japan.
- Although I’ve got a random sampling of figures and toys from a wide range of sources on display at J-List, I’m mostly a Star Wars collector, and can’t pass up a really well-made vehicle or playset.
- I’m also a bit of a furobito, or an aficionado of hot springs and sento public baths, and I visit these places 1-2 times a week. Now that I’m in Tokyo, I’ve started exploring public baths seriously. I even found a place that allows tattoos, if you’d like to visit Japan but have some.
What I most love about the world we live in is, we’re all pretty much free to pick one or more areas to go little nuts about, which is a fun and enjoyable way to live our lives. So, what kind of otaku are you? Tell us on Twitter!
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