personal note: WHO ARE THE MEMBERS OF THIS OTAKU GEEK COMMUNITY IN jAPAN? WE AMERICANS ARE TOO TAME AND QUIET AND CONSERVATIVE COMPARED WITH THE YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN JAPAN…WHY? STEVE, USA, november 14, 2018 blog: https://getting2knowyou-china.com firstname.lastname@example.org wechat 1962816801
Nerd mentality – Japan’s Otaku geek community
12 November, 2005 scmp Julian Ryall (0share)
TOSHIYUKI TAKANO SHRUGS off the compliment with a self-deprecating wave of the hand. Taking another sip of his tea, he confirms he is in the top 5 per cent of Japan’s growing legion of geeks or otaku: he scored a remarkable 84 out of 100 in the first otaku certificate exam organised recently by manga publisher Biblos.
The labels geek, nerd and anorak are pejoratives in most societies, but Japan’s otaku are proud of who they are. The term was coined by a magazine in 1983 to describe the people attending a comic book convention in Tokyo – guys addicted to anime, typically gauche, and who are likely to love their computers more than their girlfriends.
But what was once a niche group has become a major social phenomenon. Japan is now estimated to have three million otaku whose annual spending power, according to a recent Nomura Research Institute report, adds up to more than 400 billion yen ($26 billion).
With pockets that deep, geeks are an economic force to be reckoned with. So what do otaku buy? Typically, all display space in the otaku’s home is filled with action figures and the walls plastered with posters from animation classics from Studio Ghibli.
‘I’m not into collecting model figures from animated movies or computer games, but some of my friends are,’ says Takano, a 19-year-old human sciences student at the prestigious Waseda University. ‘I’m more interested in buying parts and building my own computers or audio devices, and I’m always first on the scene when new gadgets go on sale.’
Of course, he loves computer games and spends hours in online chat rooms, ‘making new friends and exchanging information’. Takano and his friends also hang out at places such as the Tiara, a so-called maid cafe where young waitresses dressed as French maids pander to nerdish fantasies.
Meanwhile, a hotel with similarly dressed staff has opened outside Tokyo this year to cater to the geek clientele. Such places are popular because the maid costumes are cute and the girls look young, Takano says, but reckons he’s too shy to ask them for anything more than a drink.
Like other otaku, Takano carries a manga book with him everywhere and has a vast collection of anime DVDs, the minutiae of which are as familiar to him as his family history. Ask who provided the voice for an obscure character in Eba or Evangelion – the defining sci-fi series for otaku – and he doesn’t hesitate.
It’s this erudition that put Takano in the top ranks of the Biblos quiz. ‘We had no idea it would be so popular,’ says Ryota Ishizuka, the editor who devised the light-hearted test. ‘We thought maybe 1,000 people might take part but there were so many trying to access the site, our computer seized up.’
In the two weeks that the quiz ran, almost 500,000 people tried to log on to the website to tackle questions ranging from the merely outlandish to the utterly obscure.
A sampling: How many more people attended the Tokyo Comiket Manga convention in 2002 than in the previous year? What ‘cosplay’ (costume play) outfits are banned at fans’ gatherings? And true or false: a timed incendiary device was planted at a Comic Market event between 1996 and 2002?
‘It was pretty tough in places,’ Takano says. ‘But I’ve been living this life for the past five years and I just seemed to know stuff. I guess that makes me a natural-born otaku.’
Takenori Emoto, 22, nods appreciation of his fellow geek’s achievement. ‘This is more than a hobby for me; it’s more like a lifestyle choice,’ says Emoto, a programming and holography student at Nihon University. ‘The Dragonball animated TV series and games started me off 11 years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since.’
Emoto was delighted to score 82.2 marks on the test, because ‘there are some areas of specialist otaku knowledge that I know very little about’. He graduates in March and hopes to become a designer of electronic pinball games. ‘That will give me an interesting job and let me continue with my interests.’
Next month’s Comiket Manga exhibition, a biannual event that usually attracts about 600,000 devotees over its two-day run, is among the highlights on Emoto’s calendar. He’s already drawing up a wish-list of things to buy. ‘For me, there’s nothing better than wandering around comic markets on a weekend,’ he says.
Emoto loves anime, and fortunately his mother shares his obsession. ‘My mother likes [Eba] so much she has models from the movie. She’s a real otaku mum and she thinks it’s a good hobby,’ he says. ‘My father isn’t interested, but my younger brother, who’s 19, is like me.’
But for all their obsessions and lack of social skills, the Japanese nerd has emerged as a new type of cultural icon. Otaku have become a staple of novels and TV dramas. Densha Otoko, or Train Man, evolved from an internet bulletin board into a book and a feature film, which screened in Hong Kong recently. The tale of a hapless computer geek, who wins the heart of a pretty young thing after he comes to her rescue on a train, evidently resonates with the community.
Takano and Emoto dream of a similar encounter, although neither seems ready for a real relationship. ‘I don’t have a girlfriend and I don’t go out much,’ says Takano. ‘Some of my university friends go drinking but I don’t tag along. I don’t have the time; I’m usually either studying or making another computer.’
Emoto is also apparently too busy to fit a girlfriend into his life. ‘If I have free time, I like watching baseball on TV,’ he says.
But with the otaku’s financial clout, the Nomura report points out, they are ‘no longer a niche market’, and companies that can tap into their interests are likely to be rewarded by an expanding market.
Nomura has identified 12 subdivisions within the community, but their ranks are constantly evolving with model train fans and mobile phone otaku now emerging.
The biggest beneficiary of the boom has been the Akihabara district, a warren of electronics parts shops which has become a magnet for hard-core otaku. Once a run-down area of Tokyo, it was recently given a new lease of life with ancillary businesses, such as maid cafes, mushrooming to cater to geeks.
A huge industrial complex is being built there, including the first university aimed at tapping the talents of young otaku: Digital Hollywood University will offer degrees in technology, animation and design.
Their reticence and poor social skills may rule them out as captains of industry, politicians or showbiz stars. But with their combined wealth, Japan’s mild-mannered geeks may well colonise a good chunk of the country.