Thursday, 11 November 2010

An Interview with an Otaku

Something which might interest people is some of the essays I've been writing here. I was thinking its a shame to have these actually interesting essays and no one to see them apart from my professors. SO here you go! This is for anyone who's interested in otaku and has time, or is just a masochist and wants to kill time. Enjoy!

An Otaku in 2010
– The new generation of ‘otakuness’ -

Within this interview I wanted to look at a normal Japanese person and find out ‘what makes them otaku’, how they think other people view this identify and how it is expressed in their everyday life.

The term otaku originated from the word meaning ‘your home’ which was used to refer to someone whose position to oneself was unclear. It carries the connotation of being equal but also being distant from them. In the 1980s the term began to be used largely between fans of anime, manga and computer games. The media then began to use this term to describe people (mostly teenage men) who were socially inept, who did not care about their looks and who were into “collecting useless things” such as anime, manga and computer games (Grassmuck 1990); a negative image which grew to be connected to an incident, know as “The Miyazaki incident”, in 1989 where a man whom the media labelled as being otaku killed 3 little girls in horrific ways (Grassmuck 1990; Schodt 1996, p.45). This negative image was predominant in the 1990s and so I was particularly interested in seeing how things have changed in the last decade from the perspective of a modern day otaku.

Yuuki (for the sake of anonymity this is not her real name) was hardly the unclean anti-social image associated to otaku when I met up with her one lunch time. She seemed like an average 19 year old Japanese girl with her tights, short shirt, smart top and a big grin across her face, although she looked quite nervous she seemed happy to talk to me. When I first met her she appeared to be an average Japanese girl but after a few months she mentioned off hand that she was an otaku. This had caught me completely off-guard because her outward image was not what I had expected, and considering she was the first otaku to ‘come out’ to me, I asked her if I could interview her. She agreed and we met a few days later. I told her that the interview was anonymous and she seemed to relax a bit.

At the beginning of the interview I wanted to know what she thought made her otaku and how it was different to other people. She said that she was familiar with otaku culture and knew that otaku are otaku to their fandom’s, such as train-otaku, computer-otaku, and in her case she was an anime-otaku. There are people who just watch anime but otaku get involved more, and in her case she does so by going to events and enjoys watching cosplay (although she herself does not partake in cosplay). Other otaku also spend a lot of time on the internet browsing sites of their interests such as anime sites, but she said she does too sometimes but hasn’t had much time for recently. Considering that the image of otaku is associated with men I found it interesting that she made the comment that a while ago otaku is only men, but now it’s also women. “There are many woman but they don’t say as much as men. Women take care of their fashion, but boys don’t, so it’s hard to tell if woman is otaku”. But when I asked her why it was now also women she did not know.

I then wanted to know how she became an otaku. When she was in elementary school she got into anime that was on TV such as Sailor Moon, Ranma ½, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Mezon Ikoku. It was an interest she developed on her own, which was normal among elementary school children. What was not normal was that she maintained her interest in anime through junior and high school until the present day. It was not normal for her to be interested in anime after elementary school and that was when she knew she was otaku.

She had one friend who was otaku in high school, who did not appear to be otaku and she knew her for a long time in junior high before she found out. One day after they had graduated from junior high her friend went up to her one day and said “why don’t you go to an event with me?” and since then she has gone to events in Osaka every year and one time she and her friend wrote a manga and tried to sell it as Comiket (a large doujinshi event in Tokyo). Although her friend has now moved away they still sometimes talk online. I asked if she had any other friends online and she said that although many otaku might because it is easier to be yourself online, she does not and prefers to talk to people face to face.

Her other friends in high school were not otaku though, and although they knew in high school that she was an otaku her university friends do not. I asked her why not and she said was embarrassing and that there’s a ‘bad feeling’ associated with being otaku. In general anime-otaku are seen as being very anti-social and get this bad impression. Although there are some ‘good’ impressions of otaku such as history-otaku or animal-otaku, where being otaku is a profession. I asked if she was ever bullied for being otaku and she said although there is a bad feeling she was never bullied. If people were not interested in the same things they either tended to not get to know that person or can get along despite different interests.

As she had mentioned her university friends did not know she was otaku I decided to expand on why that was. She said that Kansai Gaidai was famous for its fashionable girls, and her friends here are all fashionable. She thinks that they would not be surprised and would understand if she told them she was otaku, but “real otaku don’t say they are otaku”. This statement I found interesting and when I asked her why that was she replied that “if people go round telling everyone they are otaku then people don’t think they are otaku. Otaku are shy and quiet and don’t say they are otaku. That is why it is difficult to know if a person is otaku.” She said that she did not think there were any otaku at Kansai Gaidai because of this.

I asked her why clothes were linked with otaku. She said that a person who is not interested in fashion shows that they are not interested in sanjiken or rather the 3D. They prefer 2D girls and are not interested in attracting real girls, so they do not need to pay attention to their looks. She said that personally she is not as fashionable as her friends and usually wears Uniqulo clothes (a brand of cheap clothes) and because of that her friends sometimes joke that she is otaku (that is why they would not be surprised if she told them she was an otaku). She prefers cheap and reasonable clothes where her friends prefer expensive fashion. This is because she likes to save money to spend on anime and manga, although she will also spend her money on trips, music and concerts.

I wanted to gauge her experience of the media and otaku. She said that before 2005 otaku did not appear in the media but since Densha Otoko became popular then the image of otaku has been one that is strange but acceptable. Densha Otoko or “Train Man” was a drama based on a manga which revolves around the story of an otaku trying to fit in with society and his love story with a normal woman (Pena 2006 p.12-14). It portrays otaku as being the socially inept anime obsessed image that people are used to seeing in the media, but also as being harmless people who have friends and can get girlfriends. Although Yuuki did say that the show portrayed a good image to some people, other people still think the obsession with anime, manga and game characters as being too weird. The media now broadcast otaku as being strange all the time, but at the same time show that many Japanese people are otaku so it is not unusual. I asked her what she thought of this ‘bad’ image of otaku, to which she replied “it can’t be helped if people think that way”.

My final question was if she would stop being otaku when she started full time work. She said that she didn’t know. If she stops being interested in anime and manga then she would give up on being otaku, but now, although she’s very busy she still spends her free time watching anime, and she’s been drawing manga since junior school, so she doesn’t think she will ever give that up. She said that although people have bad impressions being otaku is always fun. When she sold her comics in high school she got a lot of good feedback and the event was a lot of fun. “Almost all otaku are quiet, not energetic, but if they gather they can be energetic, excited, crazy.”

One thing which struck me in my conversation with Yuuki was that she never mentioned the Miyazaki incident from 1989 and when I asked her if there had been anything about otaku in the media before 2005 she said “not really” and that she had never heard of Miyazaki. Although most of the definitions linked to otaku mention this incident as being a key aspect in the negative images of otaku, I think I can understand why she did not make the connection. Yuuki was, like most of current teenager otaku generation, born in the late 80s/early 90s, so they would not have been conscious of the increasingly negative image associated with otaku. Their parents and the elder generation would and this negative feeling seems to have been passed down into the generation without any context. I think this is why shows like Densha Otoko and the modern media are able to portray the image of otaku as being ‘strange’ but overall harmless, because it is directed to a generation outside of the ‘dangerous otaku’ image.

Overall the interview went well. At the beginning I explained to her that she could speak in Japanese if she felt more comfortable doing so and to ask me any questions if she didn’t understand anything. I asked her to explain her details in as much detail as she could and to tell me about her experiences and feelings. As the conversation went on I adjusted my questions to fit in with what she was telling and now and then had to probe to get her to expand on a previous statement. She was fine for the most part apart from seeming very nervous, which I found out was due to the fact that she had never spoken about her otakuness in as much detail to anyone before. One problem I had with the interview was that she spoke mostly in English, and although this was helpful for me I felt like she could not explain herself as well in English. There were times where I asked her to explain it in Japanese but she would slip back in to English again.

In conclusion Yuuki’s ‘otakuness’ derives from her love of anime since a young age and had carried on through school, expressed through her hobby of drawing manga. She is a female otaku, showing that otaku does not necessarily equal men. Her identity as otaku is a central part to her and although she does not appear to be otaku in the way the media portrays them to be, she still hides this aspect of her from her friends. She is a generation born outside of the Miyazaki incident yet the negative connotations giving people a ‘bad feeling’ of otaku remain. I think hiding their identity is common among many modern day otaku who do not want to be associated with the negative images of being unclean, anti-social and strange, despite the fact that they are also portrayed as being common and harmless. Due to this many otaku do not know about other otaku that might be close to them which is why, as Yuuki explained, “when otaku gather at events they become different to how they are on their own”.


Grassmuck, Volker (1990) “’I’m Alone but Not Lonely’: Japanese Otaku-Kids Colonize the Realm of Information and Media, A Tale of Sex and Crime from a Faraway Place.” Retrieved from, 1st November 2010

Pena, Joseph (2006) “Otaku: Images and Identity in Flux” Retrieved from, 1st November 2010

Schodt, Frederik (1996) “The Doujinshi World”/”Otaku” from Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley: Stone Brige Press, pp. 36-49

Interview Guide

1. What makes him/her otaku
-Why/How do you define yourself as ‘otaku’?
-How do you think this is different to other people?
-Do you think there’s a good/bad image of otaku in Japan? Why?
-Have you ever been bullied because of this?

2. How they became an otaku
-When did you start becoming interested in anime/manga/computer games etc?
-Did your friends introduce you or was it something you did on your own?
-Are many of your friends otaku? Why/Why not?
-Do you discuss your interests with your friends? Why/Why not?

3. The Media
-How does the media portray otaku? Good/Bad?
-Did you notice a difference in the past?
-What do you think of this image?

4. The Future and General Thoughts
-Do you think you will stop being otaku when you start full-time work?
-Any comments he/she wants to expand on?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


I feel like after the last few weeks the stress has just been building and building and building and building. Japanese academic life is so different to England. We have tests every week for Japanese and assignments every few weeks for afternoon culture classes. The culture festival was smack dab in the middle between midterm exams and midterm assignments. This last week I handed in two assignments, did a 5min presentation in Japanese that I had to do off by heart, and then this Friday I have another assignment and a presentation to do for a culture class.

Not only that but for my midterms I got a really bad mark for the anthropology module even though it was a really easy test and I’d revised all weekend. It really hit me and I felt horrible and angry at myself for making such stupid mistakes. I feel so incredibly stupid in that class and since then I haven’t done the reading (mainly because I haven’t had time) and I haven’t said anything in class. I feel like my brain has turned to mush. I feel like such an idiot and I’m scared of putting my hand up in case I say something stupid. I’ve always done that. I think professor Hester must think I’m such an idiot. I’ll never be an anthropologist.

Not only that but I’m working all the time so I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to know the seminar house people as well as I could have. I don’t feel like myself here. I’m not the happy hyper Jen I normally am at Uni, but feel like the bored, tired, anti-social Jen when I’m at home.

I get the feeling it’s partially due to the fact that I don’t have things like the anime society of Adventure Gaming Society. I don’t have a weekly event where I can see all my friends and unwind. I don’t have the time to do something like that. I admit I have time to go out and see the sights, but it’s the human contact that I crave and that I’m missing.

This is what I was afraid of most of all before I came to Japan: making friends. I admit I have friends here but they’re not the same as in England when we’re just really close, and even when we’re not as close people would still notice if something was wrong and try to make it better. I dunno, it could just be different cultures and different mentalities. I mean I think I partially don’t make an effort to get to know people better and make a good impression but this stress and this work has just drained my energy. I really don’t feel like being genki all the time. -___-

I keep having this re-occurring theme in my dreams when I’m back in England, normally in Canterbury, and the Japan trip was just over. And I think “wow that went really quick” and then I wake up. I’ve had that for 4 nights in a row now. I think I’m home-sick. Which is a first time for me because before when I’ve gone away from a long time, I’ve not really had anything to miss. I miss England. I miss my friends. I miss the work at Kent Uni.

Everyone has their ups and downs, and I have more ups then downs here in Japan. I guess it’s just hard when the people you love aren’t there.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

School Festival FAIL

Gaidai School Festival pissed me off big time!

Lets start from the beginning: Students were asked if they would like to volunteer for something called INFES (International Festival) before we even came out to Japan and I thought why not. So I signed up saying I’d be happy to do anything and would even donate clothes for the fashion booth. Time eventually goes by and I get an e-mail saying I’ll be working on the World Booth representing England (nothing about if they wanted to use my clothes and it was never mentioned again).

So there’s apparently a meeting but I missed it for some reason and since then it just went down hill. Because I hadn’t met the girl I was doing the England booth with we decided to meet up and start organising what we were going to do. So after a few meetings we decide that a word game of English to American English, some England pop music, photos and she’ll get together some introductions of famous people.

But then there are some meetings to see how we’re doing, I only find out about this from the girl who says “Are you going to the meeting later?” to which I have to reply “what meeting?” I can’t really go to something if I didn’t know it was on. AND it didn’t finish until really late with nothing sorted at all. We had a few of these and I think I ended up going to 2. Turns out a few of the other foreigners had the same experience.

Not only that but I was really confused as to what the whole thing entailed. My partner nor the organisers (who are all students, no teachers involved) told me what the stalls were going to be like, where it was, what time. My partner got a time table in Japanese and just told me we were preparing on the Thursday and Friday just gone and then INFEW was Saturday. Or at least that’s the impression I got. Turns out it actually started Friday and I was expected to work on the booth all Friday afternoon (despite having classes) and all Saturday.

NOT ONLY THAT! But it turns out Thursday-Saturday was also the Gaidaisei Festival. The Japanese students organised a HUGE festival and INFEW was just a tiny part of this festival…NO ONE told the international students. We all just…found out!

I was really annoyed, mainly because there had just been no communication between the Japanese and the foreign students. And they had no excuse not to have contacted us because they’re learning English and we’re leaning Japanese. So there shouldn’t have been anything wrong with putting a pamphlet in our draws advertising the event. Turns out there was a famous J-Pop singer there too who hadn’t sold many tickets- again we didn’t know about it. I’m sure more people would have gone if they’d been told.

My impression is that the foreign students are just outsiders of the Japanese’s students system and that they feel like they don’t have to include us in their activities. I didn’t feel welcome or encouraged to partake in the activity they’d asked me to do. So I didn’t exactly put as much effort in as I could have, and I missed most of the festival because I was working for 6 hours straight.

You want to know the icing on the cake? Although I admit there were many meetings that I missed and a few I skaived off of, as well as stuff that I forgot on a regular basis, so I was feeling bad and felt obliged to go along to certain things. But my partner, who said she’s make intros for celebrities, didn’t! Yes she did work hard but the one thing I asked her do she didn’t…actually there was another and was to translate the Japanese on the English cards so the Japanese could understand.

Overall the fair was ok. A lot of food stalls and a lot of Japanese people running around in silly costumes trying to sell me the stuff. Turns out there were other activities too like dance productions etc, but once again we didn’t know about it. They could have at least given us programs for the event. So yeah. From what I can tell the Japanese students just don’t care about the foreigners and if they’re not going to communicate with us how do they expect us to act towards them?

It’s been a long weekend and this stupid volunteering has dug into time I could have spent doing productive things like not spending money on food and working on my Japanese, which I seem to be learning more from self study then talking to any of the Japanese kids. GRRRRRRR >_<

Friday, 5 November 2010



OMG! If there is one aspect of Japan that is not well known, but a definite must see for a trip to Japan it’s the TAKARAZUKA REVUE!

Takarazuka is a smallish town just outside Osaka city on the Kankyu railway. This is fairly important because the review was created in 1913 by the owner of the line who wanted more people to visit the town of Takarazuka. The Takarazuka Revue is an all female theatre production who do musical productions based on the old Western Broadway theatre with exaggerated costumes, music, acting and at the end they like to use this HUGE staircase where all the stars walk down it singing. The bigger the star the bigger their costume and the more spot light they get.

What’s special about the Revue is that girls who join it is they join in their teens and they go to the Takarazuka school instead of High School. They live and train at the dorms and work with the Takarazuka Revue for at least 7 years instead of getting public education. It’s really interesting because although they never come into contact with men (if a Takarazuka woman marries she must retire from Takarazuka) they get trained to be the ‘perfect’ housewife because they go through gruelling training in cleaning and cooking on top of their theatre training. Although when they become top stars the fans basically do all their chores for them. When they leave Takarazuka they either marry or a few go into show-business in other industries.

(Left: Posters for upcoming performances. The closest one is their newest Romeo and Juliet. It looks pretty)

I’m not very good at explaining so here are some cuts from wikipedia ^-^

The Takarazuka Revue was founded by Ichizo Kobayashi, an industrialist-turned-politician and president of Hankyu Railways, in Takarazuka, Japan in 1913. The city was the terminus of a Hankyu line from Osaka and already a popular tourist destination because of its hot springs. Kobayashi believed that it was the ideal spot to open an attraction of some kind that would boost train ticket sales and draw more business to Takarazuka. Since Western song and dance shows were becoming more popular and Kobayashi considered the Kabuki theater to be old and elitist,[1] he decided that an all-female theater group might be well received by the general public.

Part of the novelty of Takarazuka is that all the parts are played by women, based on the original model of Kabuki before 1629 when women were banned from the theater in Japan.[4] The women who play male parts are referred to as otokoyaku (literally "male role") and those who play female parts are called musumeyaku (literally "daughter's role"). The costumes, set designs and lighting are lavish, the performances melodramatic. Side pathways extend the already wide proscenium, accommodating elaborate processions and choreography.
Before becoming a member of the troupe, a young woman must train for two years in the Takarazuka Music School, one of the most competitive of its kind in the world.

Each year, thousands from all over Japan audition. The 40 to 50 who are accepted are trained in music, dance, and acting, and are given seven-year contracts. The school is famous for its strict discipline and its custom of having first-year students clean the premises each morning.
The first year, all women train together before being divided by the faculty and the current troupe members into otokoyaku and musumeyaku at the end of the year. Those playing otokoyaku cut their hair short, take on a more masculine role in the classroom, and speak in the masculine form.

The company has five main troupes: Hana, Tsuki, Yuki, Hoshi, and Sora (Flower, Moon, Snow, Star, and the Cosmos respectively), and Senka (Superior Members), a collection for senior actresses no longer part of a regular troupe who still wish to maintain their association with the revue and perform from time to time. Flower and Moon are the original troupes, founded in 1921. Snow Troupe began in 1924. Star Troupe was founded in 1931, disbanded in 1939, and reestablished in 1948. Cosmos, founded in 1998. is the newest troupe.

(Right: the entrace hall of the was big...and sparkly...the paino played itself the main themes of the performances!!!)

Anyway. The other weekend (30th October on Saturday) I went with one of my classes (with Hester again) to see this magical show. And it was AMAZING! We went and saw the Star Troupe do a Revue of Autumn. It was based around really Japanese themes with all the performers in Japanese kimonos doing fan dances and there were ninja and a sword fight between two samurais fighting over a geisha. But it was all a Japanese musical! SOOO PRETTY! I really liked the minor actors rather then the main ones, because although they weren’t in the spot light they were the ones that made the main stars look good. They were the ones that just made it really spectular with well timed moves and adorable costumes. I love the little gadgets they used that just made the show even more spectacular like trap doors, a rotating stage floor and smoke machines and well timed fans to get rid of the smoke when it wasn’t needed. Then there was the music. Soooooooo pretty. I just can’t describe it. A perfect mix of Japanese style and modern stuff ^_^

After the review and a short intermission was the main performance. It was a Japanese musical of An Officer and a Gentleman. I’ve never seen the film before but read a brief description of it before hand. Despite that I understood it really well! I was well chuffed ^^; The acting and the stage props and the timing, the lights and gadgets again were just all mind blowing. It really is on a whole new level compared to the West-end musicals I’ve seen.

(Left: The Theatre on the inside...we were really high up)

Tickets to the show range from 2500 to over 10,000yen! Me and a group plan to go again to see For Whom the Bell Tolls (if we can get around to booking the tickets). Soooo looking forward to it ^^ That will be in the mid-level seats at 5,500yen. I really wish I could have taken pictures of the performance but allas no. But there are videos on youtube ^_^

In the past Takarazuka have done musicals of Phoenix Wright ( , Black Jack, Romeo and Juliet, Oklahoma, Phantom of the Opera, Singin’ in the Rain, Sound of Music, and loooads more. The Rose of Versailles is their most famous piece. It’s based on a manga of the same name that was supposed to be about Mary Antoinette but it ended up being a story about Oscar, a woman who grey up like a man to take after her father as the leader of the palace guards, so it’s really fitting to the Takarazuka image. (Right: An Officer and a Gentleman program the top is the Autumn Dance)

If that doesn’t give you enough reasons to go to Takarazuka then how about this: The Osamu Tezuka museum is also there! Osamu is the ‘God’ of Japanese Manga. He made Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy, Ribbon no Kishin/Princess Night, Jungle Taitei/Kimba the White Lion etc. It’s quite cool. You can see sketches he’s made and then there’s a cafĂ© upstairs where you can sit down and watch his anime or read his manga. There’s LOADS so if you have time you’ll be entertained for hours.
(Me and Princess Knight!)

So yeah ^___^ Takarazuka. Super awesome. If you’re in Japan GO!