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What is an Otaku?

Video: How To Become An Otaku

Well when you really get right down to it, Otaku is a Japanese word who's English translation is "house" or "home."

The practice of calling a person an Otaku originated with the people who are the indoor types.  We English speakers call them homebodies, a word that does not translate because it does not exist in the Japanese language.

So lacking a word for this kind of person, they simply named him after the place where he spends the majority of his time.  (Though I can only imagine some of the confusion this must've caused in the beginning.  "The house walked out of his house and got into his car."  Like WTF?  Well that'd certainly stir up some kids' imaginations!)

Otaku VS. Hikikomori

So Otaku has nothing to do with anime and/or manga.  It's how you say "house" or "home" when speaking Japanese, and when applied to a person it means that person is an indoor type.

However, it's understandably very easy to get an Otaku confused with a Hikikomori as the two are very close to being the same thing.  The difference however lies in what it is that keeps them in their home.  And in the case of an Otaku, that would be the enjoyment of his hobby.

And while this does include those people who's hobby is anime and/or manga, it is not exclusive only to them.  The hobby could be coin collecting, the hobby could be stamp collecting, the hobby could be building models, the hobby could be rap music, the hobby could be porn.

It makes no difference what the hobby is, you're an Otaku if you spend the majority of your time in your home enjoying your hobby.  This also means that you're not an Otaku if you're an outdoor type even if your hobby is anime and/or manga (Though I've no idea how you can be an outdoor type with an indoor hobby.  Maybe you guys can figure that one out and tell me in the comments below.).

The Third Meaning Of The Word Otaku

But Otaku has a third meaning as well, it's how you say "you" in Japanese when speaking formally.

And using this formal way of saying "you" was first introduced to anime fans by Haruhiko Mikimoto and Shoji Kawamori, the character designer and mech designer of a hugely popular anime known as Super Dimension Macross (Just to give you an idea, being a Macross fan back in the day was exactly the same as being a Dragonball fan today.).

Both of these guys were very well known for being very poilte towards their fans.  Delighted to have been spoken to with such politeness, the fans of Macross continued using Otaku to say "you" when speaking to each other rather than the informal anata.  And over time, this trend would eventually catch on with fans of all anime.

Now I've heard that some people have this misconception that this is where the Otaku community got started when nothing could be further from the truth.  What we refer to today as the Otaku community has always been around for as long as there has been merchandise - driven anime.

The only thing that really changed is that we now have a name for it.  To illustrate what I mean, Super Dimension Macross did not start airing until the fall season of 1982, but the first ever Comiket was held on December 21 of 1975.

The Otaku Killer

But Otaku was turned negative on July 23, 1989.  What happened on this date was that a serial killer that only targets children, little girls to be more accurate, by the name of Tsutomu Miyazaki was finally caught and arrested.

And during their investigation, law enforcement discovered that this sicko was a fan of anime and anime merchandise.  This resulted in the news media labeling him The Otaku Killer, resulting in an outrage of hatred toward anime fans.  Sound familiar (Columbine/video games)? 

This was when everything negative associated with the word Otaku that you've ever heard of was thrown at anime fans because of people's belief that all anime fans are future serial killers just waiting for something to set them off, all of which are lies and false accusations (Remember, the only thing you're saying when you call a person an Otaku is that person is an indoor type.  That's the truth.).

And it even got so bad at one point that calling a Japanese person an Otaku was like being white and calling a black person the "n" word.  There were even some people who went so far as to claim that they feared anime fans more than they feared the Japanese gang bangers known as the Yakuza.

Even now there are brand new anime shows that still depict characters who are anime fans with some of these lies, even though it's only really done for comedy purposes.  As if anyone is really in any danger of being killed if they should happen to interrupt someone who's in the middle of watching anime.

But it was eventually realized that child murder had nothing to do with it.  What was actually fueling the hatred was the disdain that society in general has against anyone who practices a counterculture, even more so if that person is also socially challenged.

And even though this stance against anime fans has been softening up over the years, it never really got properly cleaned up like it should have.  So what you have now is a mix of Japanese people who have no problem with being called an Otaku and Japanese people who still take offense to it.

The American Meaning Of The Word Otaku

However Otaku has a completely different meaning in America.  The American definition of the word Otaku is "a person who likes anime."  There's no insult behind it or anything.

In fact it's the opposite, it's more of a badge of honor.  It's the highest compliment you can possibly give to a person who likes anime.  Naturally being an American myself, this is the meaning that I use by default.

What caused this divide was that anime fans in Japan were simply using the word Otaku in place of the word anata to say "you" when speaking to each other.  They weren't actually calling each other an Otaku person.

But in America, you had a market of brand new anime fans who hadn't been introduced to the word yet.  Enter Otaku no Video, an anime that pretty much did my job of explaining all of this before I was even born.

And to give you an idea of what this anime was like, a good modern day equivalent would be Lucky Star.  Unless you're also interested in what it's like to be an anime fan in post - Tsutomu Miyazaki Japan, in which case Oriemo would be a better choice.

After checking out this anime, Americans came away with the understanding that Otaku must be what you call a person who likes anime.  But even after learning what the word really meant by it's Japanese origin, they had no choice but to keep the American meaning unchanged because the Japanese meanings were already taken.

We already had the English words house and home for when we want to say "house" or "home," we already had the English word you for when we want to say "you," and we already had the English word homebody for when we want to say that a person is an indoor type.

So that only left the meaning that was interpreted from Otaku no Video, "a person who likes anime," as the only option left for incorporating the word into the English language.

Anime Fan VS Otaku

Now even though I know that, according to dictionary definition, Otaku and anime fan are like jungle and rain forest, two entirely different words that mean the same exact thing and which one you use is based entirely on your personal preference (Otaku and jungle being my personal preferences), someone that I met in person at an anime event told me that there is a difference.

According to this person, the way that anime fan was always meant to be different from Otaku is in the same manner as how a regular police officer is different from a member of the SWAT team.

Now it used to be that I did not know if this was true and was just pointing out what another person said to me.  But thanks to a comment from Minako Aino, I know now that this is the case. 

After noticing that there were two types of fans just like with video games, casual fans and hardcore fans, they came up with Anime Fan to tell the casual fans apart from the hardcore fans, or the Otaku.

Although, just like with video games, this still raises the question of where is the dividing line that separates the men from the boys so to speak?  If a casual fan, video games or anime, decides that he wants to get promoted to a hardcore fan, at what point does he know that he's arrived?

That's always been the one thing that I did not know officially, but I could always say that in my personal opinion it should be based on a person's level of interest to make it as fair as possible for everyone.

The harsh reality is that everyone is not lucky enough to live in an area where there's an anime convention that they can get to, nor is everyone a traveler and/or have the means of being capable of traveling.  So if attending an anime convention is a requirement, you're sort of punishing this type of anime fan for something that's outside of his control.

Personally, if I knew of someone who loves anime so much that he practically lives in his local anime store, makes every effort to be there at every anime event that crops up in his area where he lives, and so on and so on, but this person is unlucky enough to live in an area where there is no anime convention for him to attend, I would not see this person as any less deserving of the Otaku promotion than someone who can get to an anime convention.

Because it's perfectly clear that this person would be attending if only there was an anime convention that he could get to.

Now just to make sure you're understanding where I'm coming from, here's a bit of a quiz for you.  Let's take a look at all of those guys that only watch anime on TV and do nothing else.

Now if there was someone like this who loves anime so much that he makes every effort to watch every anime that gets aired on TV, would he be a regular anime fan or an Otaku?  I'll give you a minute to think about that.

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick tock.

Well if you said Otaku, you'd be correct.  That he's so interested that he's making every effort to watch every anime that gets aired on TV clearly tells me that the only reason he could have for only watching it on TV must be that's the only thing he knows about.

It's perfectly clear after all that he would be reading manga and so on if only he knew that there was more that he can do beyond just watching it on TV.

So there we go, I believe that I just demonstrated what I feel should be the dividing line.

Anime Fan:  This person does watch anime, but it doesn't interest him enough for him to see it as any big deal.  At best this person will make a big deal of the show(s) that he does like, but he could not care less about anime in and of itself.

For example all of those guys who are huge diehard hardcore fanboys of Dragonball but have no interest whatsoever in any other anime and refuse to see themselves as the anime fans that they are (Newsflash dumbasses, Dragonball IS an anime.  So it's impossible to be a fan of Dragonball without being a fan of an anime!).

Otaku:  This person loves anime in and of itself and makes every effort to do everything that he knows about to the best of his ability.

Image of What is a Hikikomori?
What is a Hikikomori?

But as I said, this is just my personal opinion on what I think the dividing line should be.  This is not official and I do not know what it is officially.  But I do know now thanks to Minako Aino that what that person told me is true.  Even though the official dictionary definition that I found from my own hard won research is that Otaku and anime fan are the same exact thing.  I guess the dictionary is outdated and needs some serious updating!


Nancy said...

Otaku defines a person who has obsessive interests and actively participates in a wide variety of topics, including anime, manga, cosplay, collectibles and more.

Street Savvy the Otaku Guy said...

And as a result of this person having so much fun enjoying his hobby, he stays inside his home all the time. And because there does not exist a word to describe a person who stays in their home all the time in the Japanese language like there does in English, homebody, the Japanese did the next best thing by naming him after the place that he stays in all the time. And how do you say house or home in Japanese? Otaku.

Understand also that the only reason for why his reason for staying in his home all the time has to be included is to tell him apart from another type of person that also stays in his home all the time, the Hikikomori.

Minako Aino said...

I think the bottom line is that otaku is one of those crazy words that has multiple meanings to it, and I personally feel that Street Savvy did a very beautiful job of explaining and fully fleshing out each and every one of those meanings.

Robert Smith said...

Can you give me the link/name to the warmest naruto akatsuki hoodie?

Street Savvy the Otaku Guy said...

Sure thing Robert! I was just about to start doing more product reviews now that I've pretty much finished with all of my introductory pages. My local anime shop is located in a mall that's still closed down because of the virus unfortunately, and that would've been the fastest way for me to try on different ones so I'll know which is the warmest. I can tell you that the ones that I own right now and wear on a regular basis are very warm, but as I bought them back when Naruto first got started they're both so old now that I can't find them online anywhere anymore. But I can give you this link where you can see all the different Naruto hoodies that I did find.

Robert Smith said...

If you really want to wear a fashionable to match your outfit, the hoodie should not go past the belt. If you do not want to wear a belt it doesn't really matter. But if you're wearing a belt must have with your pants up, and it doesn't really match anything, then wear a hoodie that nearly goes a little past the your belt just to cover it properly.

Street Savvy the Otaku Guy said...

Thank you very much for the advice Robert. I prefer not to wear a belt but I have to sometimes. I'll be sure to do that the next time I have to wear a belt.

Minako Aino said...

Hey Street Savvy! I just found out that person you spoke to at that anime event did tell you the truth. The way I heard it was that the American meaning of Otaku did originally mean that you're a person that likes anime, but over the years they started to notice that there were two types. Just like with video games, there are casual gamers and there are the hardcore gamers. Well they were seeing the same thing with anime, so they came up with Anime Fan for the casual fans and decided that Otaku should be used for the hardcore fans.

Street Savvy the Otaku Guy said...

Thank you so much Minako, that was a big help! See I wasn't entirely sure if it was true, so I put it out there because I wanted someone who did know to tell me. Well now that I know, I'll definitely make sure to make the corrections in the article.

Minako Aino said...

Oh wow! Thank you so much for the shout out! This is why you're so cool!