Japan's Imaginary Obsession: How the Unreal Engendered a Subculture

Rebecca Michelle Weiss


Regarding Japan’s population, a general consensus pervades the American public; namely, that the Japanese people are largely homogeneous, and highly collectivist-minded. While the country does have a mainstream public, underneath that deceiving exterior exists the otaku subculture—males often compared to geeks or nerds. There also exists a female variety of otaku, known as fujoshi. Otaku often choose to separate from the pressures of the mainstream by investing their time and obsessive interest on any number of hobbies. However, while otaku can be pinpointed by their high level of obsession over a hobby in comparison to non-otaku, they are further divided into types which categorize and describe them in greater depth. Currently five types of otaku are defined, and each differs in terms of the types of hobbies they choose to focus on, their level of sociability, and how they integrate their hobby into their daily lives. One of these types of otaku emphasizes a contemporary way of consolidating the fruits of their obsession, via an online activity known as databasing. Databasing involves cataloguing the traits of characters from Japanese anime, or animation; manga, or comics; and video games. These traits can range from the physical, such as large eyes; or accessories, such as cat ears; or a clothing type, such as a maid outfit. These characteristics evoke a sense of moe in the observer—a euphoric response not unlike the effects of Prozac. Moe characteristics are often very popular among databasing otaku due to their emotional capital rather than physical. This is because, for many of these otaku, true fulfillment can only be found within their reaction to a specific type of fictional—colloquially known as 2D—character. These 2D characters are tagged by their traits and features so other otaku can find a given image and add tags of their own. This makes databasing an interactive affair, as it involves the active input of a number of individuals. However, not all otaku are interested in databasing or moe elements. Bolstered by their hobbies, many are interested in decidedly more social fare, such as attending conventions, meeting up at manga cafés, playing anime-inspired arcade games, and cosplaying—dressing up as and acting like a 2D character. It is not reasonable to assume all otaku—going by their particular nature—are all antisocial recluses, which would better describe another group, known as hikikomori, who have reacted to societal pressures in a decidedly more negative manner. There are numerous otaku who find pleasure in sharing their personal interests with their peers. As such, while the mainstream public may still reject some aspects of otaku subculture, they have managed to carve out a niche which they can claim as their own.


Otaku; Moe; Lolicon; Anime; Manga; Visual Novel; Dating Simulation; Cosplay; Databasing; Society; Culture; Relationships; Individualism; Sexuality

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