Oh boy oh boy. I have been thinking about this article/commentary for a long time. Like several months of talking it out in the shower, writing and re-writing and research. Not to mention, the out cry of hate or the long in-depth dialogues. Can I handle someone completely going after me for one article? I like to think so. Let’s bring up some points first.
I am not Asian. I am white. At the end of the day, when it comes to if these terms have been appropriated and/or butchered I can only offer commentary as someone whose lived in Japan extensively, part of the community for anime/manga/Jpop/V-Kei, etc for 10+ years; and that’s it. I am not part of the demographic where these terms originated from. My opinions, which is what they are, opinions do not matter simply because I am not part of the affected group.
I am doing this as best I can, and just because it’s something that has been crawling around in my brain and has driven me nuts for years.
With all that said; let’s jump into it.
I really hate, overall non-Japanese people using these terms. There’s a reason I’ve never used ‘Otaku’ as a word to describe myself, or even words that I do sometimes identify myself with or have had a Japanese person call me aka ‘Wota’ or ‘Bandgya’.
Why? Why would I describe myself as someone who likes Japanese Pop culture, but not use these simplified terms? It would make sense to say that I’m an otaku, verses someone who likes anime or manga. Same as saying I am a wota, verses someone who likes Japanese idol music, or Bandgya verses someone who likes Visual kei. There’s several reasons.
First is context. I have met way too many anime fans who expect non-anime fans to know what Otaku, NEET etc, are despite those terms being a niche culture. When talking about my interests to someone new, it makes no sense to say “Hi my name is — . I’m a wota” since there’s no context to the word ‘wota’. Just like saying ‘I’m an otaku’ has no context to people who aren’t part of the community. Coupled with the elitism some fans have towards ‘normies’ (whatever that means), makes the whole interaction awkward and a little too much for some.
In those more obvious situations, I describe myself or what I like differently. “Hi I’m —. I really like Japanese idol music’. Same meaning, more context, easier to introduce someone new to the idea of wota, otaku, etc. Basically, getting out of the habit of using niche words, allows you to actually talk to people about your interests without being a dick about it.
This again, changes when you’re talking with people of the same interest. It’s much easier to talk about yourself when people know your niche words. At say, an anime convention it’s much easier to say “Oh, I’m an otaku too” verses “I also like anime and manga” (despite the fact you’re at an convention and that’s obvious). Or at an idol concert saying “Oh, you could say I’m an EXILE TRIBE wota, overall”, when discussing favorites. These people have context, most likely, about these terms.
The other issue is the mis-use/butchering of certain terms. I can not tell you how many times, someone has gone red in the face trying to convince me ‘Otaku’ is only for anime/manga/video games. It’s not. Sorry to burst any bubbles here; Otaku can talk about any ‘detrimental’ hobby.
“Definition: (in Japan) a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills.
Origin: Japanese, literally ‘your house,’ alluding to the reluctance of such young people to leave the house.”
There are people who are considered TV, train, sports, whatever you can think of, ‘Otaku’ in Japan. I’ve even heard Japanese people refer to baseball fans “Baseball Otaku” (but that was exactly once and I wouldn’t say it’s common).
Coupled with this, a lot of Western anime and manga fans seem to mis-understand the word otaku in context. This was evident when making introductions during my college years, as someone energetically introduced themselves and said they were otaku in my intro level Japanese class. (They literally said “私はオタクです.) Both professors in my class at the time, from Japan, pulled a somewhat disapproving faces.
When in Japan; you don’t whip out that you’re an otaku, for anything or about anything, in your introductions. In fact, you really don’t say it until after you’ve been friends for awhile, or someone asks you about it first. I was pretty darn embarrassed when my host dad said I was a wota. (
He’s not wrong.) Granted it was said in private, and I knew the context he was referring too, but it was still embarrassing. I don’t think my youngest host sister ever looked at me the same again.
There’s significantly less condemnation about being otaku then there use to be. A lot of younger people 20 something or younger, typically use otaku as a descriptor as someone really likes something. Like my eldest host sister just recently confessed that she’s a Johnny’s wota; she’s a really big fan of Johnny’s West. I’ve known her for 7 years, and she only confessed in the past year, despite knowing I was ‘a really big fan’ of Johnny’s as well.
The older generations still don’t approve of the term. Mostly because it’s still con-notated with being a shut in and somewhat as a social outcast. Hence, why you don’t bring it up at first, or even at all. Much like any hobby in the West, your real friends will find out about it eventually, and either accept you for it or not. It’s not that difficult.
I really don’t care what people say to their friends. If you use the word Otaku, I really can’t stop you. But please, for your own knowledge, educate yourself fully in the word before using it. And for the love of god, don’t say “I’m an Otaku” right off the bat when meeting a Japanese person for the first time.
The bigger problem for me, isn’t even with words like ‘Wota’, ‘Otaku’, or ‘Bandgya’. It’s Western people not understanding the depth and the true connotations of words like ‘Hikkomori’ and ‘NEET’.
These are much more serious words, that I see too many kids online throwing around as if it’s a contest to be labeled a Neet-otaku-hikkiomori, or Hikkiomori-neet-otaku instead. This severely under estimates the real problem, the serious sociality problems that these words indicate.
Let’s unpack the English (for easier understanding) of NEET and then Hikikomori. NEET:
“A NEET or neet is a young person who is “Not in Education, Employment, or Training”. The acronym NEET was first used in the United Kingdom but its use has spread to other countries and regions including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States”.
So, let’s have a chuckle at those who didn’t know it actually came from the UK. It is an English acronym after all. By default; high schoolers shouldn’t be calling themselves this. You’re in high school aka in education, so by default excluded from this term. Any neckbeard dude bro even working just part-time, is excluded from being able to use this term. It goes on, and on with examples of popular demographics stroking their internet credibility by mis-using this term.
Moving forward, in Japan people who would be labeled as NEET, again are social outcasts. They have no opportunities to fit into society. I know there’s some weird fantasy of NEET culture thanks to anime/manga and the like but it’s not a joke. Family members will shun you if you’re considered a NEET. You can lose your friends, social standing and so much more. Not to mention, being a NEET isn’t glamorous. It’s pretty gross and usually not that flattering for anyone.
In short: Being a NEET in Japan, isn’t cool. It’s a very crippling label that affects people beyond the ‘otaku’ realm. It’s not a ‘cool Japan’ slogan or something to mis-use.
Now, my final, somewhat biggest pet peeve, somewhat I just want to slap people who use this word and do not fully understand the cultural context of it. Hikikomori.
As per NEET, let’s start with a definition: “(in Japan) the abnormal avoidance of social contact, typically by adolescent males. a person who avoids social contact.
Origin: Japanese, literally ‘staying indoors, (social) withdrawal.”.
The definition is a bit deceiving, as both men and women, young and old are affected. In fact, it’s considered a social and societial epidemic that there is even legal legislation on to help.
Hikikomori is not “I sit inside my house and watch anime all day”. Hikikomori is not “well it’s XXX time, time to be hikikomori”. Hikikomori is not “I played league for 3 days straight, guess I’m hikikomori now”.
Stop. Using. This. Term. For. Otaku. Stuff.
Just say you binge-watched/played whatever it is. Hikikomori is not some transitive state that people transition in and out of freely based on what media they’re consuming.
Logistically, and despite this prevailing idea that Hikikomori are otaku; most of them aren’t. There’s no real correlation between Otaku and Hikikomori at all. The stereotypes from popular culture want you believe this but it’s not true.
I also want to unpack that Hikikomori is just the Japanese word for this phenomena. There are recluses, for whatever reason, in any country anywhere. There are words for those people, such as recluse. You do not have to slap a borrowed and in my opinion, butchered word, in order to identify yourself. Use your own words and own definitions for your own behavior.
Hikikomori in Japan, tend to stem from other issues. Whether it is a former businessman who got fired, and was unable to be re-hired, a young woman who was bullied so hard in school she never leaves her room, or a widower who never re-married and has no family left; these aren’t people who obliviously decided one day to stay inside their own room forever. They were driven by circumstances, typically beyond their control, or mental illness or a combination of factors, that prevent them from re-entering society. These are people who haven’t interacted with another human being in years, maybe not have spoken in months, and obviously haven’t left their homes.
It is a serious condition, that affects many. To blindly label yourself something when you are attending school, holding down a job, or just being functional in society is just ignorant plain and simple.
If the Otaku community, people who love anime and manga, or Japanese culture, whatever community you are part of can just take a few steps back and really look into the meaning of these words. You don’t have to be an expert obviously, but reading something like I’ve written or even scholarly content on it will make you a little less ignorant. I’m not saying you have to give up the title of Otaku, or even of NEET. But please do not falsely perpetuate these labels when there are real people who are devastatingly affected by these conditions.
If you read all that; bless you. It took me awhile to unpack what exactly bothered me about these words being used by Western or even more broadly ‘Non-Japanese” peoples. If you disagree, this got you to think, even if you think this was utterly stupid and useless I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
Drop a comment if you’d like just keep it civil or I’ll disable comments. Again, you’re entitled to disagree but just blindly attacking me or my thinking will get you no-where.