In what way do Otaku challenge or endorse the dominant social norms in Japan?
The term otaku became a crucial component of the Japanese culture. The notion is used in relation with individuals, who are obsessed with their hobbies. They are willing to spend a lot of time and money to support their interest. The otaku are often associated with computer geeks because usually the otaku’s hobbies are related to computer games and programming. Besides, the term is used to denote “nerds”. However, otaku may have different interests. The main feature of being an otaku is to be fond of any hobby and collect a huge amount of information about it. Initially, the term was used with negative connotations because of Tsutomu Miyazaki, the Otaku Murderer. Furthermore, the otaku are considered to be far from reality. Therefore, the meaning of the word has more negative meaning than the Western analogues of “geek” and “nerd”. Yet, otaku image becomes more and more accepted and respected nowadays.
In her essay titled “Train Man and the Gender Politics of Japanese 'Otaku' Culture: The Rise of New Media, Nerd Heroes and Consumer Communities ”, Alisa Freedman indicates that the discussion of otaku and their importance to the Japanese society were extremely popular in mass media in 2005 and 2006, when discourses about the Train Man were raised (2009). The love story of Train Man and his lover Hermes became extremely popular despite the fact that the main character is otaku. This can probably mean that the appearance of such social group as otaku has changed the social norms and perceptions. Freedman analyzes the story and its history to show how Train Man affected the Japanese society and its attitude to commonly expressed rules and norms. Train Man can be viewed as a phenomenon of different media interrelations. Initially, the story began with a message on one of the forums. However, it was developed in many threads. A twenty-two year man protects an older attractive female from a drunken person and receives a present from her. He asks for advice on the forum as he had never had a girlfriend. The story develops as the main character completes several missions, which are related to romantic relationship. This adventure became so popular that it was issued in a separate book with several editions. Moreover, the story was filmed and shown on a big screen. There were also several imitating stories and forum threads. All in all, the popularity of Train Man shows the growing interest to otaku.
Otaku as well as nerds and geeks are considered to be underdogs. Despite the fact that they inhabit urban areas and are not “far removed from mainstream urban society” (Freedman, 2009), they are lonely. The loneliness and unwillingness to marry is one of main concerns of the modern Japanese society. The late marriages and low birth rate could lead to a demographic catastrophe. Therefore, the existence of otaku is damaging for the society. On the other hand, the otaku have a great developing potential. The technical knowledge and experience are extremely needed in the modern world, and otaku with their obsession can be helpful. Besides, they are competitive in getting high-income positions. The otaku can become a respectful group of the society.
All in all, the image of otaku is rather contradictive. As Freedman states in her essay, the image of compassionate highly-motivated otaku with rather good income and definite hobby has substituted the image of middle-class business man as a romantic hero (Freedman, 2009). It seems that otaku can be an ideal candidate for marriage, which is still very important in Japan. On the other hand, the main character of Train Man had to change his physical appearance to become noticed by Hermes. This means that despite of all of the attractiveness of the otaku image, it is still limited and cannot be fully accepted by the society.
Freedman, A. (2009). Train Man and the gender politics of Japanese ‘otaku’ culture: The rise of new media, nerd heroes and consumer communities. Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, 20. Retrieved from http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue20/freedman.htm