Why Is It Socially Unacceptable To Be An Otaku In Japan? (Revisited)

by Justin Sevakis,

Today we're gonna revisit a question we published last Friday, submitted by James:

I have seen a rather large number of anime and manga series in recent years in which a character (either male of female) is extremely popular and successful at school and with their friends, but hides the fact that they are an otaku (approximately the Japanese equivalent of a nerd in western culture), but I wonder why that is; what is wrong with being an otaku? Given that nerd subculture is now "cool" and mainstream in the west, why is it not now "cool" to be an otaku in Japan?

The original answer we posted for this question last week got plenty of pushback, as my information on this was pretty out of date. I'll totally cop to this: I manage to keep a toe in the Western fan world as a professional, but keeping track of general societal issues for fans in another country isn't in my direct wheelhouse - and I should've done a lot more research instead of relying on old information. I don't intend on making that mistake again.

So, what ARE things like today? Surveying the feedback I got and following that up with more research, things aren't hugely different from how they are for fans in the US. Some people do like keeping their interests on the DL, because trying to explain themselves would be more trouble than it's worth. This is especially true of people who work for conservative companies, or just people who aren't interested in being public with their status as fans. Plenty of those people still exist. That sort of dynamic may sound familiar to anyone who is a fan of anything, really - it isn't unique to otaku at all.

But a number of things over the past few years have made otaku culture so pervasive that social perceptions of it have changed. One of them is the success of "otaku-friendly" idol bands like AKB48, who regularly make the charts while associating themselves with otaku culture and its enclaves like Akihabara. Lesser, but still noteworthy success has been had by other musical acts associated with anime, often as opening and ending theme songs.

Another major change is the high number of female fans. Thanks to the growth of Otome Road in Ikebukuro and the boom in fujoshi-friendly content being produced, many otaku events are now clearly for both genders, and plenty of them are even female dominated. This is a big change from the old days.

Fan events in Japan are, increasingly, social affairs for otaku. Events like Tobu Zoo's Kemono Friends collaboration make for hugely social otaku gatherings, which both boost attendance and make for good business on holidays. Handshake events with voice actors and singers bring in tons of fans. And that's to say nothing of all of the small doujinshi and other fan events around town.

Anime and manga are broad subcultures that cut across a lot of categories in Japan, so it's very hard to generalize. There are definitely aspects that are decidedly more "underground," especially when it comes to the more adult oriented delights. Overall, however, it appears that largely, the Japanese media have moved on from their previous suspicion of the country's nerds. "Normal people" might be aware of anime, but much like in the West, they keep to themselves if they're not interested.

Perhaps there was no bigger hint towards broader acceptance of otaku culture in Japan than the historic success of your name. While for years Hayao Miyazaki's films have been broadly successful, Studio Ghibli was long considered to be separate from the rest of anime. It looked different, it was reliably for a family audience, and reliably a certain kind of quality. your name. looks and feels much more like "standard" late-night anime, and yet was excellent in its own way, and in doing so became the biggest hit in anime history.

So perhaps things aren't as quiet and underground in Japanese fandom as I was originally led to believe. Have you gone to fan events in Japan? What are your experiences? Let us know in the forum!

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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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