Is It Bad To Be An Otaku?

If you enjoy anime and manga, it’s possible that you have come across the term otaku or even refer to yourself as such. The name otaku can be seen as similar to “geek” or “nerd” in English.

As with other labels or terms used to describe people, the Japanese term otaku can be used negatively, but at the base of its definition in Japanese, it merely refers to fans of popular culture.  

The term otaku deserves a deeper look into the meaning and why it has negative connotations. It even gets confused with the term “weeaboo”. Let’s look at the background development of otaku and different terms used for anime and manga fans.

Why Being An Otaku Is Not Bad Anymore

In Japan, otaku currently means someone who has a high level of interest (or hobby) in something specific like trains, cars, music, etc. In the West, it indicates a specific interest in anime, manga or Japanese culture.

Toshio Okada, former president of Studio Gainax, made an effort to reclaim the term by changing the Japanese characters used for spelling it. According to Linguablog, the original term was written in kanji (御宅) and the colloquial (and negative) term in hiragana (おたく).

Okada started writing it in katakana (オタク) which is normally used for foreign words, to separate the meaning from its negative connotations. This has helped to destigmatize the word and today its meaning is much closer to “geek” or “nerd”.

The term migrated to the Western world in the 1990s with some negative associations, but over the last few years, it has merely become a subcategory of “geek” or “nerd”.

As you might know, being a geek or a nerd is becoming more and more accepted in the west. Besides, reading manga and watching anime is gaining popularity as well, so being an Otaku is not really negative anymore.

Another term that has become popular in the West is “Weeaboo” which can shortly be described as the term for a “bad otaku“.

Otaku Is Not An Insult But Weeaboo Is

Unlike otaku, weeaboo is a completely made-up word formed by the online English-speaking community. Also unlike otaku, it is definitely meant as an insult when used. These terms online are meant to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy fascinations.

is an otaku a weeb?

Weeaboo, or weeb for short, is generally used to describe “Japanophiles”. These people are seen as obnoxious fans of anything Japan-related and consider it a superior culture. It is seen as an unhealthy obsession because their interest is more important than their daily lives.

The origin of “weebs” comes from the word “Wapanese“, first used in 2002. According to the Racial Slur Database, “Wapanese” refers to a white person who is obsessed with Japanese culture, including manga, hentai or anime.

According to Linguablog, regular online altercations got out of hand on a site called 4chan. The moderators of the site created a word filter that automatically swapped the word “Wapanese” with “weeaboo” whenever it was used.

The word in itself is nonsensical and has only been used once in a comic called the Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewitch, but it does not relate to its meaning today.

In The Past Otaku Had A Negative Meaning As Well

Otaku is a Japanese term that means “another person’s home or family”. It is a polite second-person pronoun that can also be used as an honorific.

The initial use for anime and manga fans is still up for debate. It was first used in the 1960s to address owners of unique fan books. In 1982 it was used in Macross by characters to address someone you don’t know well.

Others say it was popularized by science fiction author Motoko Arai or anime studio Gainax. The first negative association developed after the release of an essay called “Otaku Research” written by Nakamori Akio in 1983.

The essay described otaku as unpleasant fans or “manga maniacs”. It stereotyped the entire demographic as overweight or malnourished shut-ins who only like anime for the cute girl characters. Akio is known today for the colloquialism of the word.

A further negative connotation can be linked to a serial killer in Tokyo during 1988-1990. Tsutomu Miyazaki was labeled the “Otaku Murderer” by the Japanese media since a large collection of anime and horror videos was found in his possession.

These incidents meant that otaku described antisocial homebodies, obsessed with time-wasting entertainment, not limited to anime or manga, but also games and conventions. These people were considered worthless to society and unable to relate to reality.

Are You An Otaku Or A Weeaboo?

There are many different articles and discussions online about the difference between the two terms. Listed below are the general findings:

Anime or manga otaku:
  • Watch anime frequently ranging from daily to weekly
  • Might own some anime/manga related merchandise or cosplay items
  • Attend anime conventions, in cosplay or not
  • Read anime blogs or news, possibly follow anime accounts
  • Are passionate about their interest, but it does not interfere with their daily activities or responsibilities
  • Have respect for the Japanese culture, but do not idolize or fetishize it
  • Understand that people all have different interests and hobbies
  • Do not belittle others for lack of knowledge or interest in anime and manga
  • Views their interest as an entertaining pastime
  • Knows that anime and manga remain fictional
  • Only watch anime and/or only read manga
  • Only purchase items related to anime or manga
  • Daily activities always include something related to anime or manga
  • Use Japanese “lingo” in conjunction with their mother tongue, even when others might not understand
  • Judge and scorn others for not enjoying anime/manga
  • Pick fights with others who have different opinions regarding anime/manga
  • Appropriate Japanese culture as their own, without full understanding or respect
  • Can be delusional about the difference between fiction and reality
  • Uses anime and manga as an escape from problems (see Anime Addiction)

The birth of other cultural “boos”

The internet has taken the term “weeaboo” and created inverse versions of the term to refer to people who are obsessed with cultures that are not their own. Here are some examples:

“Korea-boo” is a term to call a very large (and growing) community that loves everything Korea. Everything from K-pop, K-dramas, and movies, not even mentioning the famous Korean skincare products.

“Freeaboo” is a version of the term that refers to someone obsessed with everything American-related. The same goes for “Chinaboo”. From here on if you add “boo” to a country name most internet goers should know what you mean.

“All of you, be good otaku

As one Japanese Twitter user’s teacher said:

“A good otaku shares enjoyment and information with the people around him, so that everyone can feel happy.”

Soranews24, 2015

If you are passionate about anime and/or manga, share the enjoyment of that with others and allow others to share their passions with you, whether you understand it or not.

So much of the meaning behind these labels has grown and changed that it can be ambiguous and open to interpretation, but no label should shame you for simply enjoying something.

What do you think about being called an otaku? Do you see it as an insult or something to be proud of?

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