Because of Sato-sensei’s comment in my previous post, I have decided to start a column about ヲタク culture called ヲタクの文化（ヲタクのぶんか、otaku culture）. For short, I will be calling it お多分（please forgive me for the lame joke）. Before I go any further, referring to oneself as an ヲタク is not a good thing as you will find out. The main reason I refer to myself as one is because no native English word specifically distinguishes someone who is highly infatuated with Japanese animation and graphic novels. By using a Japanese loan word, it is obvious what sort of fan a person is. Geek or nerd could be used but these terms are too broad and are derogatory in English in the same way that ヲタク is in Japanese. Thankfully, English-speakers as a whole have not adopted the negative connotation when taking ヲタク from the Japanese language. Having said that, I WILL refer to hardcore アニメ/漫画 fans, American and Japanese, as ヲタク since both these populations refer to themselves as ヲタク.
ヲタク comes from the word お宅（or 御宅） which is a formal second-person honorific. It literally means “your house” and is ironically a polite way of referring to someone else’s house or family. ヲタク gets it modern slang term from 『おたく』の研究 (おたくのけんきゅう、An Investigation of Otaku）by 中森 明夫（なかもり あきお） in which he observes that geeks/nerds tended to address one another with お宅 and that they tended to stay at home. From there, ヲタク has taken on its modern meaning of an obsessive fan. To distinguish the two meanings, ヲタク in its modern form was first spelled as おたく and then as オタク. Recently it is starting to be spelled as ヲタク although オタク is still acceptable.
Outside of Japan, ヲタク refers to someone who is a fan of Japanese animation and graphic novels (and to a lesser extent Japanese culture in general). In Japan however, ヲタク refers to an obsessed fan of any kind. It could be アニメ or it could be something unrelated such as trains. There are twelve main types of ヲタク. They are:
- AV equipment
- Mobile IT equipment
Together, the Japanese ヲタク population is about 1.72 million people and is valued at about ￥411 billion (roughly $3.56 billion). In comparison, the American market consists of about 200,000 core fans and is worth $350 million. Japan’s total population is estimated to be around 127.43 million people which means that 1.35% of Japan’s population can be considered ヲタク. The US has about 301.14 million people within its borders which means only 0.066% of the populaion can be considered ヲタク.
In addition to the term ヲタク, there are also other words used to describe those with ヲタク-like interests. The loan word マニアック (maniac) can also be used to describe ヲタク although it does not send as strong of a connotation; マニアック is less offensive than ヲタク. Female ヲタク tend to call themselves 腐女子（ふじょし） which means rotten girl and is a play on 婦 女子（ふじょし） which is a term for respectable women. The “rotten” refers to the way these females think. They tend to like “rotten” things such as アニメ or 漫画 featuring homosexual relationships between the male characters or like imaging such relationships between male characters. Those ヲタク who often frequent 秋葉原（あきはばら） are known as アキバ系（アキバけい）. They spend much of their leisure time walking around “Electric Town.” ア キバ系 has also been given the meaning of someone who looks like they would spend a lot of time in アキバ. In other words, anyone who exhibits a geek chic fashion could be called an アキバ系.
There are also some other words related to ヲタク but are not necessarily the same. These include NEET and 引き篭り（ひきこもり）which I mentioned briefly in this post. NEET is an acronym borrowed from the United Kingdom and stands for Not currently engaged in Employment, Education, or Training. Basically, NEET refers to young adults who refuse to enter a full-time job after school. NEET is not to be confused with the term freeter which is a term describing a person who floats around between low wage jobs. However, both can be seen as a rejection of the traditional サラリーマン（salaryman） career by Japanese youth. On the more extreme end exists the 引き篭り. the term was coined by 斎 藤環（さいとう たまき） and refers to individuals who completely withdraw themselves from society usually by locking themselves in a single room for months or even years. They have a very high fear of stepping out of their room for even a short period of time. They often rely on parents for basic necessities such as food and removing waste. Even the parents may not be able to see or communicate with the 引き篭り. Although some NEET and 引き篭 り maybe ヲタク, most ヲタク are not NEET or 引き篭り; ヲタク tend to be the hard-working types that work diligently for money to spend on their hobbies. Although I cannot comment on reasons for people becoming NEET or 引き篭り, I can give rough estimates to the size of these groups. ゆじ げんだ先生（ ゆ じ げんだせんせい、I don’t know the right kanji) of 東大（とうだいAKAとうきょうだいがく） estimated that there were about 400,000 NEET aged between 15 and 24 in 2003. 斎藤先生（さいとうせんせい） estimated that there could be upwards of up to 1 million 引き篭り.
That’s it for today’s post. When I get around to typing up part 2, I will probably write about コスプレ（costume play）/レイヤーズ（layers）or ビジュアルノベル (visual novel) or both. Also if anyone wants to use any of this information or any of my sources for a culture presentation, then go ahead.