OTAKU, OTAKU CULTURE, MANGA FANS, ANIME EVENTS AND MAID CAFES IN JAPAN

MANGA READERS AND FANS IN JAPAN

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cosplayers
Manga readers can get away without buying their favorite magazines. They can read them in convenience stores (store managers generally don’t bother them) or rent them cheaply like videos from rental stores, manga libraries and manga cafes. The trend is a concern to publishers and artists who feel they are making considerbaly less money than they would if people bought the magazines. Some rental shops do do quite well. Many of them get their entire stocks at dirt cheap prices from newspaper recyclers and the Japanese equivelant of garage sales.

Many manga are targeted at specific audiences: middle school girls, high school boys, salarymen in their 30s. Many readers are adults. According to one survey 42 percent of men in their 20s and 20 percent of men in their 30s read manga. Jason Thompson, author of Manga: The Complete Guide, told the Daily Yomiuri, “Manga have as much place’ in an adult’s life “as books or movies or any other form of entertainment.”

In the old days everybody in Japan read manga. An advertising developer told Japan pop culture expert Roland Keets in the Daily Yomiuri, “We grow up on anime here, We feel real really close to [cartoon] characters. Celebrities and models have limited appeal, but characters can have appeal for everyone.”

Some Japanese love manga so much they walk around in costumes of their favorite characters or show up at convenience stores at 2:00am when the newest manga are delivered so they can catch up on the latest episodes of their favorite heros. Some fans go on seichi junrei (“pilgrimage to sacred places”)---places associated with their favorite character. Onegai Teacher and Onegai Twins, two popular anime from the early 2000s, draw fans to locations around Lake Kizaki in Omachi, Nagano Prefecture that are featured in the anime’s story. Other popular otaku pilgrimage sites include the site of the now-torn-down Tokiwa-so apartment in Toshima ward Tokyo, where many legendary manga and anime artist lived when they began their careers; Washinomiya Shrine in Washinomiya, Saitama Prefecture, where the main characters of the anime Raki Suta live; and Shichigahamamachi in Miyagi Prefecture, where the popular television anime series Kanagi is set.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Cosplay.com cosplay.com ; Cosplay Magic Shop cosplaymagic.com ; Cosplay Paradise acparadise.com ; Academic Paper on Manga in France ceri-sciencespo.com

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Kaimen Rider cosplay
Links in this Website: MANGA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; POPULAR TYPES OF MANGA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; POPULAR MANGA AND FAMOUS MANGA ARTISTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MANGA FANS AND COSPLAY IN JAPAN AND ABROAD Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; OSAMU TEZUKA, MANGA AND ANIME Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;ANIME Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ANIME FILM AND TELEVISION SHOWS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HAYAO MIYAZAKI ANIME Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MODERN JAPANESE FILM INDUSTRY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MODERN JAPANESE FILMMAKERS AND FILMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MEDIA, RADIO, NEWSPAPERS AND TELEVISION IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TELEVISION PROGRAMS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CHILDREN’s TELEVISION SHOWS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources on Manga: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Manga.com manga.com ; Free Manga using Scanned Pages onemanga.com ; Manga Fox mangafox.com ; How to Draw Manga howtodrawmanga.com ; Essay on Manga and Anime aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Krazy World of Manga, Anime and Video Games aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Ultimate Manga Guide (last updated 2004) users.skynet.be/mangaguide ; Rei’s Manga and Anime Page (last updated in 2005) mit.edu/people/rei/Anime ; Manga Video manga.com ; Comic Yamasho Stores comic-yamasho.jp-stores.com ; Kyoto International Manga Museum kyoto-international-manga-museum Manga Cafes, See Kissa Below; Cosplay Shopper Cosplay Shopper

Books: Manga Manga! The World of Japanese Comics and Dreamland Japan; Manga! Manga!by Fred Schodt; Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga by Frederick L. Schodt (Stone Bridge Press); Adult Manga by Sharon Kinsella (Cuzon Press, 2000); Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics by Paul Gravett (Laurence King Publishing, 2004); Manga: The Complete Guide by Jason Thompson (Dek Ray); and One Thousand Years of Manga by art historian Brigitte Koyama. Related books include Japanamerica by Roland Kelts (Palgrave Macmillian, 2007) and Encyclopedia of Japanese Culture by Mark Schilling. Millennial Monsterby Prof. Anne Allison is about the fantasies behind toys, games, anime and manga.
Frederik Schodt was awarded the Japanese government’s Order of the Rising Sun.

History of Manga: A History of Manga dnp.co.jp/museum ; Manga Gaku matt-thorn.com/mangagaku ; Brief History of Manga comicreaders.com ; Tokyo Manga and Anime Shops : Nakano Broadway is a shopping street in Nakano Ward that houses many shops selling items related to pop idols, manga and anime characters. Tokyo Character Street is located on the Yaesu side of JR Tokyo station. It is an 80-meter-long underground street with 15 shops offering hundreds items bearing likenesses of anime figures like Doremon and Ultraman and new characters like NHK mascots Zoomin and Charmin and Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece as well characters like Totoro form Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. Manga Magazines and Publishers: Shonen Jump shonenjump.viz.com ; Viz Media www.viz.com ; Tokyopop tokyopop.com

Otaku Urban Dictionary urbandictionary.com ; Danny Choo dannychoo.com ; Otaku Dan Blog otakudan.com ; Otaku Generation Blog generationotaku.net ; Dumb Otaku dumbotaku.com Otaku story in the Washington Post Washington Post ; Otaku History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Academic Pieces on the History of Otaku cjas.org ; cjas.org and cjas.org ; Early Piece on Otaku (1990) informatik.hu-berlin.de ; Man, Nation, Machine informatik.hu-berlin.de ; Otaku from Business Perspective nri.co.jp/english ; Otaku Sites The Otaku, Anime and Manga Portal and Blog theotaku.com ; Otaku World, Online Anime and Manga fanzine otakuworld.com ; Otaku Magazine otakumag.co.za ; Otaku News otakunews.com ; Danny Choo dannychoo.com ; Spacious Planet Otaku Blog spaciousplanet.com ; Otaku Activities Maid Cafes stippy.com/japan-culture ; Male Maid Café yesboleh.blogspot.com ; Akihabara Book: The Best Shops of Akihabara---Guide to Japanese Subculture by Toshimichi Nozoe is available for ¥1,000 by download at http://www.akibaguidebook.com Akihabara Murders : See Government, Crime, Famous Crimes . Websites: Picture Tokyo picturetokyo.com ; Akihabara News akihabaranews.com ; Akihabara Tour akihabara-tour.com ; Otaku story in Planet Tokyo planettokyo.com

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Manga Comicmarket in Tokyo

Komike

Manga fan events are built around fanzine and amateur manga sales bazaars. The Comic Mart (Comiket or Komike) is one of the one of the main events for otaku and manga and anime fans. Held twice a year in mid August and late December, it has been held for more than 30 years and is where cosplay was invented. The 72nd Comic Market in 2007 drew 550,000 visitors and 35,000 fanzine and amateur manga publishers over three days and filled nearly every facility at one of the biggest convention centers in Japan.

Comic Mart is one of the biggest events of any kind in Japan. The fans are a bit like Trekkies at a Star Trek convention. Most stuff their bags with freebies and works by their favorite manga artists. Cosplayers dress up and act like their favorite characters. Amateur mangaka try to sell their work. There are lectures and auctions of memorabilia and contest for new artists. The event has come a long way since it was first held in 1975 and drew only 700 people. The primary job of the police and guards at the event is to screen out mangas that too sexually explicit.

Worried that the new Tokyo ordinance on the sexual content of manga and anime would limit freedom of expression a group of publishers decided to stage an alternative anime festival in 2011 to coincide with the Tokyo International Anime Fair hosted by the Tokyo city government. The new event was called the Anime Contents Festival. Both festivals ended up being cancelled after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Otaku

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Otaku describes a subculture of young, male geeks who lose themselves in a hermetic world of manga comic books and video games. In the past it was a derogatory term used to describe men who were obsessed with computers and hung out at game arcades and in the manga section of bookstores and had some issues that developed out of their passions.

Cyberpunk writer William Gibson defined otaku as a being “pathological-techno-fetishist-with-social-deficit...the information age’s embodiment of a connoisseur.” They embrace what Peter Schjedahl of The New Yorker called a bizarre mix of “apocalyptic violence, saccharin cuteness (“kawaii”), resurgent nationalism, and variously perverse sex.”

Otaku when roughly translated means “hey sir.” Otaku tend to fall into three different groups based on their obsession: 1) games and computers; 2) anime and manga: and 3) pop idols. There is some overlapping between the groups.

Oxford English Dictionary has recognized otaku . In Japan: A Reinterpretation . On the its deeper meaning Patrick Smith wrote: to be “an otaku is merely the final word in private individuality. It is to reject anyone who would diminish the protected ego and to acknowledge an inability to achieve the intimacy of authentic human contact.”

Otaku are seen as “anemic, inward-looking, vaguely autistic.” They prefer “things to people” and virtual worlds to real worlds. Etienne Barral, a French journalist who studied them, wrote: "They know the difference between the real and virtual worlds, but they would rather be in the virtual world."

Otaku Encyclopedia by Patrick Galbraith, a Ph.D, candidate researching otaku at the University of Tokyo, comes across more as a work by a fan than a scholar.

Hideo Azuma and the Origin of Otaku Manga

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Jenglish hentai
Some trace the origin of otaku culture back to the late 1970s when mangaka Hideo Azuma created the lolicon phenomena by pioneering bishojo-moe (fetishistic devotion to the cuteness of pretty girls). [Source: Kanta Ishida, Yomiuri Shimbun, may 27, 2011]

Kanta Ishida wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Azuma debuted as a mangaka in 1969. In those days, Azuma excelled at depicting naughty slapstick comedy in which the rounded shapes of the characters reflected the influence of Osamu Tezuka or Shotaro Ishinomori. In 1978, he began to attract the attention of people who would today be called otaku, although the term had yet to be coined. His science-fiction manga Fujori Nikki (Irrational diary) won the Seiun Award, decided through balloting by the nation's sci-fi fans, thanks to Azuma's maniacal parodying of a variety of domestic and foreign stories in the genre.” [Ibid]

“He further distinguished himself by starting to work in dojinshi self-published manga circles, which was unusual for a professional mangaka in those days. In 1979, he put out Cybele, a photocopied magazine off limits to readers aged 17 and under, with his assistants and others. A point of history that only avid manga and comic lovers know is that the dojinshi became a foundational work for the so-called lolicon boom, and greatly changed the world of comics for adults in the 1980s and after.”

Meiji University Associate Prof. Kaichiro Morikawa, who has organized exhibitions of Azuma’s work, told the Yomiuri Shimbun there are four motifs that often appear in Azuma's works, all of them related to pretty girls (bishojo). These are the robotization of bishojo, the copying and multiplying of bishojo, bishojo with animal ears, and the combination of bishojo and strange creatures. Morikawa said Azuma was the first mangaka to intentionally depict underground eroticism with Tezuka-esque "adorable" pictures. [Ibid]

“Azuma, who grew up in a complex, patriarchal family, said in an interview in the special edition of Bungei that since he does not like to see women oppressed he looks for independent strength in women he draws. Considering the merits and demerits of the lolicon boom, his statement seems somehow self-contradictory. But I think Azuma's words are fairly meaningful when thinking about why his works evoke empathy or where the roots of otaku culture lie. [Ibid]

Moe and Women

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otaku taste in manga
Otaku have their own expressions and slang. Moe (pronounced “moeh” and literally meaning “budding”) describes an overpowering love or fetish towards manga- or anime-related cuteness. Otaku expert Kanta Ishido described “moe” as “the sensation of being blissfully overwhelmed by cuteness or attractiveness.”

“Moe” is used in expressions such as “Suzumiya Haruhi moe,” a strong special feeling for the high school heroine of Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, a popular anime based on a novel for teenagers; “Seira-fuku mie--- meaning a passion for sailor-style schoolgirl uniforms; and “meganekko moe--- describing a fascination for girls wearing eyeglasses. “Moe” is seen as a word used by an otaku to express his emotions for objects of his desires. If they see something that gets their emotions going they exclaim “Moehhh!” as a kind of release.

On the role of women in otaku culture, Tom Baker wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “masculinity has almost no place in the otaku world...whereas femininity runs wild---but not in any realistic or healthy form...The women...tend to be big-breasted fantasy figures striking suggestive poses while dressed in swimsuits, frilly skirts or cute cat ears. Few of the women look strong, intelligent or independent. As for the men, they are often nondescript, incidental figures gathered around a female “idol.”

Moe in Anime and Manga

Takamasa Sakurai wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Moe is a globally established term, just like kawaii or otaku. "Moe is a feeling that surges instantaneously in a person's mind. An object that instinctively stirs up feelings is the subject of moe," he said. Combining skill and passion with cutting-edge technology to capture delicate emotions is a Japanese tradition. [Source: Takamasa Sakurai, Daily Yomiuri, September 28, 2012]

"The moe that Japanese creators want to project with digital technology can be seen in the world of traditional ningyo joruri [Japanese puppet shows]. Back then, the shows, dolls and costumes were all made with the latest technology," Digital Hollywood University President Tomoyuki Sugiyama told the Yomiuri Shimbun, adding that such a spirit should be emulated now. [Ibid]

"Technology [to embody human subtleties] is what Japanese people should pursue over time as it leads people to find places and ways they can be happy," he said. "Japan is one of the first countries to learn that not everyone can get rich. Given such a situation, Japanese technology should be actively used to find reasons for living other than money." In the 20st century, Japan has earned lots of money from developing home electrical appliances, cars and other devices. During the "lost decades" that followed the end of the bubble era, young people have developed new technology that will lead to new ways for finding happiness. Such a thing could lead to the technological rebirth of this once innovative nation. [Ibid]

Otaku Activities

Akira Fujitake, a communications professor at Gakushuin University told the Japan Times, "Despite their inner loneliness, Japanese youth don't want to be bothered by others. They like such devises as mobile phones, PCs, TVs and comic because they are free to access or shun them whenever they like."

Otaku specialist Makoto Fukuda wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “There is a tradition in Japan’s otaku culture that even such things as trains or computer operating systems can be changed into cute characters in a way that turns inanimate subjects into characters meant to inspire a 'moe' response.”

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otaku fun in Akihabara
Akihabara, a district in Tokyo, is ground zero for otaku culture. It is chock-a-block wit, sidewalk cosplay displays, small but influential, back-alley anime and manga stores and maid cafes. Within a several block area there are over 80 maid cafes. Akihabara got its start as a center of black market activities after World War II. In the 1950s and 60s it was known as the place to buy radios and appliance. In the 1990s it became known for personal computers Over the years a number of shops that specialized in video and computer games and anime-related products opened up and these have attracted otaku (nerds) and became a center of otaku culture.

On Sundays and holidays some of the streets are closed to traffic. In recent years these areas have attracted “cosplay’ performers”people who dress up like manga and anime characters and put on street performances Some regard the performances as a nuisance because they disrupt the flow of shoppers and there has been some effort to control them. One woman arrested for putting in a show that climaxed with exposing her underwear.

Some otaku are geeky juvenile delinquents. They are notorious for engaging in shoplifting, petty crime and small time arson and occasionally violent crimes with knives. When the term “otaku” was first used it had very negative implications. Tsutomu Miyazaki---a psychopathic killer who killed four children and cannibalized two of them and left an ear in box at the house of one of his victims---was described as an otaku after police found a lot of manga and anime in his apartment

Otaku and Maid Cafes

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Akihabara maids cooling off
Role-playing cafes for men are popular in Tokyo. Most have waitresses dressed as French maids and target otaku---geeky fans of manga and anime. The trend reportedly began in the 1990s with a “love simulation” game in which players tried to win a date a with a waitress dressed in a maid costume.”

Some anthropologists say that one reason role-playing and dressing up are so popular in Japan is because they allow people to briefly escape the extreme social control and rigid norms of everyday life.

The cafes where young girls dress up like English or French maids are relatively harmless Most of the time the girls are simply waitresses. They don’t even pour drinks or flatter customers like hostesses do. Many of the clients are otaku, Many of the girls are cosplay fans.

In Akihabara there are over 80 maid cafes packed into a few block area and girls in maid costumes are frequently seem on the streets handing out fliers. The first maid cafes opened in Akihabara in 2000 and the popularity gained momentum after they were mentioned in the popular film Densha Otaku. Today there are so many and the competition is so stiff that its said you have to be special to survive.

In Akibara district there are maid cafes, maid bars, maid game center, and foot massage centers and oxygen salons with girls in maid costumes. The firm Candy Fruit rents out pairs of girls in maid outfits to do “entertainment housekeeping.” It charges ¥30,000 to send two girls and a chaperon to a customers house for two hours of chatting and cleaning.

Maids at cafes often greet otaku regulars with the greeting oakari (“Welcome Home”). The founder of maid training academy told otaku scholar Patrick Galbraith, “In a world where communication is getting ever weaker the relations between and intimacy established between maid and customer are crucial.”

Roles are reversed at the Newtype café in Akihabara where young men and pretty boys dress up in maid costumes and serve young women or male customers dressed in drag themselves. To work there thy boyd have to be cute. .

Otaku Chic

In the mid-2000s it suddenly became very hip to be an otaku. The geniuses behind Japan’s best manga, anime and Internet businesses all seemed to be otaku. One of the most popular books and films (Train Man) revolved around an otaku romance.

One party girl who said she had a thing for otaku told the International Herald Tribune: “They just come across as so much more sincere and relaxed about things. At this point, guys who dress well and take care of their appearances are slightly ridiculous, I can’t take the seriously.”

We’re All A Little Otaku

Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times, otaku denote “a whole universe of monomaniacal geek-like obsession, whether with an electronic game, some odd hobby, or the cartoonlike “manga” comic books devoted to everything from kamikazes to kinky sex. Let’s face it, we’re all going a little otaku in a world where technology encourages a solipsistic retreat into private worlds and even flirting has been cyber-infected. But nowhere has this process gone as far as in Japan.” [Source: Roger Cohen, New York Times, December 14, 2009]

“My sense is that four factors have contributed to this: wealth, postmodernism, conformism and despair. Japan is rich enough, bored enough with national ambition, strait-jacketed enough and gloomy enough to find immense attraction in playful escapism and quirky obsession. Yes, Japan is rich. All the deflation since the great bubble burst almost two decades ago has not changed the fact that Japan has the second largest household financial assets in the world (about $16 trillion). That’s an ample cushion to angst, however frayed once-predictable careers have become.

Japan is also moderately bored. The days of rising Japan Inc... and fears of a Japan takeover were rampant---those days are gone. China has occupied that space. So the Japanese have settled into a postmodernist ennui, an Asian outpost of that European condition,” which coexists with a tremendous conformity. On Sundays, when traffic is closed around the imperial palace, I saw lines of people waiting for pedestrian lights to change even though there were no cars. Smiling deference can seem so uniform as to constitute a gleaming wall. I can see how the urge to escape from this homogeneity could be strong.

Finally, gloom seems rampant, a national condition. I couldn’t find anyone ready to tell me the worst is over or that Japan, or jobs...So what’s left for this comfortable, perfectionist society of narrowed ambition is otaku escape.

Otaku Girl

Takamasa Sakura wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Singer and model Runa Haruna is a hard-core otaku. She became an instant sensation with her debut "Sora wa Takaku Kaze wa Mau," the ending theme song of popular anime Fate/Zero. One of her friends, who is a model, said about Haruna, "I always get the impression that she heads off to Akihabara after a photo shoot." [Source: Takamasa Sakura, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 20, 2012]

Haruna said she noticed her inclination toward the otaku world when she was a sixth-grade student in primary school. "I remember being so into the anime and manga of Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne (Phantom Thief Jeanne) when I was a second-grade student. I spent a great deal of time collecting manga illustrations and looking up the names of voice actors," she said.She searched for such information quickly via the Internet--one factor that drastically changed the quality and quantity of otaku. [Ibid]

In middle school, Haruna ventured deeper into the otaku world, and started visiting Akihabara four or five days a week. "I was eager to see changes in the showcase displays. I can't help but go there, even though I have nothing to buy," she said. "I look through the new selections of figures at Kotobukiya, trading cards and dolls at Yellow Submarine, and anime goods and dojinshi [self-published magazines] at Animate, Mandarake and Toranoana.” [Ibid]

Before becoming a singer, Haruna was a so-called dokusha model, or amateur model, for popular street-fashion magazine Kera, which features "charismatic" amateur models. That she was discovered is a testament to a shift in the way otaku and fashion work together. "When I was a first-year student in middle school, I was really into the anime D.Gray-man and especially loved one of the characters, Lord Camelot. I wanted to become part of their world and after searching for their fashion online I found Goth-loli [gothic lolita] fashion available in [Tokyo's] Harajuku district. The fashion perfectly embodied the D.Gray-man world," she said. She discovered Kera around the same time and began dressing like Kera models, decking herself out in goth-loli or lolita punk. "I got really into lolita fashion and started buying brands like Innocent World and Angelic Pretty," she said. [Ibid]

What's interesting about Haruna's story is that Harajuku fashion was intertwined with cosplay for her. The lolita fashion generation before her loathed being lumped into the same category as cosplayers. But the generation Haruna grew up in doesn't make such bold distinctions. The way she discovered goth-loli and lolita is similar to many girls overseas. They got involved in cosplay to get closer to their favorite anime characters, then through the Internet became exposed to kawaii fashion. The Internet obscures national borders, allowing for a paradigm shift from anime into fashion. [Ibid]

Otaku Girl to Street-Fashion Model to Popular Singer

Takamasa Sakura wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “When she was a high school student, Haruna was walking around Tokyo's Shibuya Ward in lolita fashion and had her picture taken by a Kera photographer. Her career as a model started from there. She was studying music at the time as part of her high school's art class, and sang at the nationwide ani-son (anime song) competition to catch the attention of the music industry. After this she made her debut as a singer, realizing her dream of singing anime songs as a profession. [Ibid] [Source: Takamasa Sakura, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 20, 2012]

"There was still a stigma against otaku when I was in middle school. Some classmates kept their distance from me," Haruna said. "But I ignored that atmosphere and hung out only with a handful of otaku friends." Since then, otaku became a sensation thanks to the making of Densha Otoko (Train man) into a TV series and movie. [Ibid]

"My high school was oriented toward art, it was like a nexus for otaku, which is completely opposite from my middle school years. Anime was a topic of daily conversation. "Prejudice against anime decreased before I knew it, and girls like me have become more common," she said. There always has been prejudice against pioneers. What we now regard as tradition had to overcome a period of distortion. I strongly believe otaku girls' fashion has the potential to be a worldwide phenomenon. "Being fond of a particular thing and expressing love for the genre--that's otaku," Haruna said. [Ibid]

Nakano Broadway: Otaku Mecca

Takamasa Sakurai wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: A five-minute train ride from hectic Shinjuku is Nakano Station. The area may not be as well known overseas as Akihabara and Harajuku, but it is actually one of Tokyo's must-see Japanese pop culture hubs. At the edge of an arcade stretching from the station's north exit lies a 10-story multi-tenant building called Nakano Broadway, an otaku mecca where anime, idol and game shops vie for space in a location that is always crowded. The building opened in 1966 with commercial establishments up to the fourth floor and residences above. Unlike typical commercial-living complexes in Tokyo, the space allocation per shop in Nakano Broadway is particularly small. [Source: Takamasa Sakurai, Daily Yomiuri, March 2012]

Apparently due to limited space, each shop sells a specialized selection of goods--figures, card games, cosplay accessories, idol goods, antique toys and manga, dojinshi fan-made manga and occult books. Voice actor Sumire Uesaka, 20, has been a frequent visitor to Nakano Broadway since she was in middle school. She made her debut with the TV anime program Papa no Yukoto o Kikinasai (Listen to your dad) while studying at Sophia University and majoring in Russian. She drops by Nakano on the way home from school, she said. "I always come to Nakano Broadway whenever I have a job around this area. I usually hang around for five hours or so," she said. [Ibid]

"I was interested in the world of subculture and surfed the Internet to discover Nakano Broadway. I was amazed to find out that there's a building housing various subculture shops," she said. "I went there for the first time on my day off from school. Everything I saw was unique and unbelievable. I was scared of being unable to resist buying endlessly once I started shopping, so I decided to stick to window-shopping that day.” [Ibid]

"I come to Nakano alone most of the time, but I always feel as if I we with friends," she said. [Ibid] There are not many places in the world where people can share common interests and feel such a sense of belonging. "I usually don't ask questions in the stores, but I find that the shop staff in Nakano are very receptive. I sometimes feel like I'm at a library," she said. Listening to her story, I got the feeling that Akihabara and Nakano are like opposite sides of the same coin. They look different at first glance but have something in common beyond manga and anime, or surface appearances; they are actually the same coin. "Nakano Broadway is like a mixed bag that represents modern Japan. I want foreigners to visit Nakano after going to Akihabara," said Uesaka, who is a longtime Lolita fan, but also loves anime and manga. [Ibid]

Otaku Shopping Complexes

Reporting from Utsunomiya, about 100 kilometers north of Tokyo, Makoto Fukuda wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, There's a building that could be considered a mini-Akihabara here in Utsunomiya. Festa, a commercial building located in Utsunomiya's main shopping district, is known as an "otaku building" that sells anime, game and cosplay goods. In March 2012, a nationwide otaku goods recycling chain Lashinbang opened a store in Festa. A few days later a cosplay photo studio opened, and otaku-related shops steadily overtook the complex. Fourteen of the 18 shops are otaku-related. [Source: Makoto Fukuda, Yomiuri Shimbun, April 20, 2012]

Originally, Festa opened in 2001 as an ordinary shopping complex for youth fashion and sold clothes and accessories. Since then, existing otaku stores such as Animate and game shop Yellow Submarine have enjoyed brisk sales. When many other tenants closed shop, nationwide otaku shops such as Mandarake and Melonbooks replaced them. A spokesperson of Festa's parent company said, "After a while, we intentionally went for an 'otaku line.'"

The manager of Lashinbang's Utsunomiya store said the shop decided to open a branch there as they were invited to take over a vacant space by Festa's management company. Customers at otaku stores tend to know what they want and visit similar stores. As a result, it's beneficial and efficient to lure customers if otaku-related shops are located close together. It's a win-win for both stores and shoppers. [Ibid]

Lashinbang buys and sells used anime goods, CDs, DVDs and dojinshi fan-made manga. Since its main store opened in 2000 in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, it has opened 20 branches nationwide, including one in Utsunomiya. At the Utsunomiya shop, more than 100,000 items are displayed on the 150-square-meter store's shelves. Right after the store opened, long lines formed in front of the cashiers. A 28-year-old man came all the way from Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, even though he lives closer to Tokyo than Utsunomiya. "I bought about 20 anime CDs and DVDs. This store has a good stock of books and goods," he said. [Ibid]

Shopping complexes housing otaku shops like Festa can be found in other regional cities as well. It's a comfortable and cozy place for otaku like me. But from a commercial aspect, focusing on a type of product and customer, especially young people, is a good business strategy for such cities, which now face hollowing-out in town shopping districts and depopulation. [Ibid]

Otaku Culture Abroad

Takamasa Sakurai wrote in The Daily Yomiuri: "Otaku" has a different meaning in Japan than it does overseas. The word tends to have a negative connotation among Japanese, although the nuance has improved over the years. In contrast, otaku possesses a positive meaning overseas, conveying a sense of professionalism in pop culture. [Source: Takamasa Sakurai, The Daily Yomiuri, June 8, 2012]

The Japanese high school uniform is beloved by female otaku around the world,. They call themselves otaku and talk about how cool it is by citing names of anime, fashion and idols or singing the latest Japanese pop songs at karaoke. I once heard young Mexican fans saying they "want to become otaku soon." Being otaku brings status overseas. [Ibid]

Hisanori Yoshida, a radio announcer with Nippon Broadcasting System Inc., told the Yomiuri Shimbun, "In my opinion, from 5 percent to 8 percent of people become otaku once they've indulged in the otaku world. I felt this strongly overseas. The otaku environment, which used to be unique to Japan, has now spread abroad via the Internet. This shows that the distribution system has changed.” [Ibid]

Chinese Otaku

Takamasa Sakurai wrote in The Daily Yomiuri: When I visited organizers of otaku circle "Next Generation" at Tsinghua University two years ago, they told me Chinese universities are a hotbed for otaku. The campus is like a large town with a variety of facilities, including a hotel, set in a sprawling area. In the dormitories, students who live in shared rooms watch anime and play games together. [Source: Takamasa Sakurai, The Daily Yomiuri, June 8, 2012]

Chinese otaku have received little attention from the Japanese media. This is a pity. Reports on the real lives of Chinese people who genuinely appreciate and spread Japanese culture could greatly influence how Japanese feel about China. "We know how the Japanese media portray China. We want them to cover more positive news about Japan and China," said one student who visited an event featuring anime. [Ibid]

In late 2010, when relations between Japan and China soured, young Chinese people organized many big anime and manga events in their country. However, very few Japanese knew about this, as the Japanese media did not report on these events. I believe Chinese otaku will play a key role in relations between Japan and China someday. Anyone can engage in diplomacy, and it can be done in various ways. If it's done among young people who share the same interests and ideas, there's very little to hold them back. [Ibid]

In April, I gave a lecture at Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology's Media & Art College. This spring, the math- and science-oriented college opened an animation and games department, with 400 students majoring in the subject. About half of them attended my 90-minute lecture on the potential of pop culture. Otaku tend to sit in the front rows for these kinds of lectures. At this one, most of the front-row seats were filled with female students in Japanese school uniforms or girly outfits that anime characters wear. They showered me with questions and reacted cheerfully whenever I mentioned popular manga and anime. [Ibid]

Image Sources: Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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