Would someone please explain to Charlie Brooker that “otaku” is not a positive term in Japan?

Not as acceptable as you may think...

Once upon a time, I was a Japanophile or more specifically – I was really into Japanese videogames, manga, anime and food plus a few other cultural elements. This lasted between 2000-2004, then I stopped being a Japanophile and this was mainly due to realising how so much of the things I liked about certain aspects of Japanese culture were recycled and kept being recycled all the time. I’m assuming Charlie Brooker hasn’t reached that point yet if his resent travel log for the Guardian is anything to go by.

To read Brooker’s rendition of his trip to Japan, how he went to the world’s “Nerd Mecca” (Tokyo) will make you roll your eyes if you’ve ever spent time as a Japanophile. Most importantly it’s his idea that it is an “otaku” haven that really gets to me:

 Not only is it the undisputed gadget capital of the world, it’s a place where being a geek (or otaku) is comfortably mainstream. Former Prime Minister Taro Aso is an enthusiastic manga-collecting otaku, the TV ad breaks heave with glossy commercials for collectible card games, and multi-storey games arcades are commonplace.

Keep in mind that he only spent time in the parts of Tokyo that make up this “Nerd Mecca” image, such as Akihabara, he might as well just said it was a piece about Akihabara and not Tokyo. His whole concept that being an “otaku” is acceptable in Japan shows a complete lack of knowledge on his part, almost as if he had never heard how the term is mainly negative in Japan.

What an “otaku” represents in the mind of the Japanese mainstream ain’t pretty and tends to view these people as a waste of space. Sure regular people read manga, even the former PM, but I wouldn’t call him an “otaku” to his face. And if you look at the definitions you can find on Google, well there’s nothing good to say about the term:

Definition highlights include:

Japanese word denoting an obsessive fan of anything, in the sense of being narrow and anti-social. Sometimes used in the West without derogatory connoitations to refer to a dedicated fan of anime or manga.


(oh-tah-kooh) is a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime, manga, or video games.


It’s not something to go banging on about whilst in Japan.

Brooker essentially manages to conjure up this idealised image of Tokyo that is often the modern day Japanophile’s dream. I hope he goes back again and goes outside of Tokyo in order to see that his first idea was just a tad too limited.

I’ll also add that neither mainstream society in the Far East or the West really, truly accepts the variants of geek culture, especially the side that leads to obsessions (otaku for instance) with things that have no real world applications (and I don’t just mean that it doesn’t make money).

And in some ways I believe that neither society needs to accept the true obsessive levels that can grow in people fond of geek habits. Because a lot of that obsessiveness is unhealthy and detrimental to people being able to support themselves physically and emotionally.

While I sometimes label myself a geek, I am never one to the detriment of being able to operate in everyday society – and that is what a true “otaku” essentially is i.e. someone so obsessed with something that they can no longer function in everyday society.


One thought on “Would someone please explain to Charlie Brooker that “otaku” is not a positive term in Japan?

  1. This is why I never label myself as an otaku. Yes, I am a fan of anime and I blog about it but it is a hobby. It does not consume my daily life to the point where I cannot get anything done; cleaning, cooking, eating, working, social life. If you walk in my home, you wouldn’t be able to tell that I like anime at all, meeting me on the street it’s not apparent. I am a geek and that does become fairly obvious once I start speaking about a particular subject but I’m not waving a flag announcing my hobbies. I am also fascinated by Japanese culture but I’m fascinated with many cultures because of the “different” element. Nice post.

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