The Otaku Encyclopedia
An Insider's Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan
Patrick Galbraith calls Tezuka "the father of Japanese anime as we know it." Find out what else Galbraith has to say about the God of Manga by checking out this video clip!!
Interview with Patrick W. Galbraith
Q. How does an American kid from Alaska end up in Tokyo, writing his doctoral thesis on otaku culture and giving weekend tours of Akihabara?
Obsession. My brothers had anime VHS tapes when I was a kid in Alaska and it seemed really cool, especially because it was in a language I did not understand at all! There was a sort of magic and mystery to the world of anime, and the Japan I imagined must lay behind it. As I entered the sixth grade, my family moved to the mountains of Montana. I had trouble adjusting. I was mooning over Sailor Moon when other guys were talking about scoring a date. I cut myself off from everyone and started working to earn the money to feed my accelerating obsession with anime, manga and videogames. I went to university to double major in Japanese and Journalism, hoping to someday make it to the land of my dreams. I finally did in 2004, and had a rude awakening. I arrogantly thought being able to read, write and speak Japanese that I would finally be able to communicate. But I was every bit as uncool as before. I heard about Akihabara, a place where otaku gather and spent a year exploring it and making friends before returning briefly to the US. I moved to Japan in 2006 to pursue my studies of otaku at the graduate level. I cofounded the Akihabara tour in 2007, published The Otaku Encyclopedia in 2009 and am planning to finish my doctoral dissertation on otaku in 2011.
Q. You are an admitted Otaku. Briefly describe what that means to you.
I believe otaku are people who are extremely intense about their hobbies for an extended period of time. For otaku, hobbies become intimately connected to who we are, what we do and where we belong. The hobby becomes a way to negotiate meaning and navigate a place in this world. Otaku are identity seekers and world builders in that they approach media and material as a means to craft a self and space.
Q. How has the Otaku culture permeated into other aspects of pop culture not just in Japan but around the globe?
A sophisticated media emerged in Japan in the 1970s after the failure of massive student demonstrations. Young radicals turned to making anime and manga because it was easier to break into these professions and they thought their creations could influence the next generation. Young people consumed this media and formed a system of knowledge production around it. This was at odds with the mainstream and so these kids were considered outcasts in the 1980s, when Japan's economy and sense of cohesion was strong. As the narrative of Japan broke down in the 1990s, more people found meaning in fantasy. Anime, manga and games form a culture of media and technology that resonates with people today. The hope and dreams found in most Japanese anime is perhaps even more appealing today as we are fraught with disaster, both natural and man made. Non-Japanese had already adopted the word otaku to mean an expert on or diehard fan of Japanese pop culture. Since the mid-2000s, otaku have entered an accelerated period of growth and change.
Q. Otaku were once viewed as outsiders. As time passed, however, a shift occurred, making Otaku culture cool. How did that evolution take place and why?
The first big boom in otaku culture occurred in the 1980s, but came to a halt in 1989 when a man who was perceived to be an otaku murdered four little girls. Around the same time, Japan went into a massive recession, which displaced a lot of people, especially youth. In the mid 1990s the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion initiated a whole new generation of kids into the otaku lifestyle. This was all happening outside the public eye, and the term otaku was still pejorative. However, at the turn of the millennium the economic vitality of otaku was recognized, as was the potential of the creative contents industry—anime, manga, videogames, movies, fashion, music and so on—to dominate in foreign markets. Japan's pop culture was really growing in favor internationally. The creativity and popularity of otaku culture was something Japan needed, an economic and political chance the powers that be couldn't pass up, so instead they promoted it as "Cool Japan." More and more otaku started coming out of the closet and suddenly we find ourselves at the heart of a global renaissance.
Q. On a serious note, discuss the massacre at Akihabara in June 2008 and how it has affected the life and culture of the neighborhood. How has it changed the Akihabara?
The tragic slayings in Akihabara actually had little to do with otaku at all. The perpetrator, Kato Tomohiro, was a dispatch laborer who was so alienated from his family and work that he fell into despair and became suicidal. He did watch anime and play games, but pretty much everyone under 30 in Japan does.
My opinion is that he was just a very lonely guy looking for someone to recognize and accept him as a person. When he was ignored online, he began to harbor this irrational grudge against the so-called "people of the Net," who he imagined to overlap with the demographic of Akihabara. The response to the incident was conflated with standing complaints against otaku, who local residents and merchants said were out of control, hindering business and damaging the local image. The police banned street performances, reopened the main street to traffic on Sundays, and started conducting "random" bag searches on otaku. Things are a lot more controlled and sanitized than before, and new mega buildings and box stores are continuing to rise up. It is a shame because otaku have less freedom in Akihabara now.
You know you are an otaku when. . .
- A trip to Tokyo means shopping in Akihabara.
- You have a Lum-chan tattoo.
- You have pondered long and hard on the final two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and you think you finally understand the significance.
- You prefer “early Miyazaki.”
- You no longer even wonder why anime eyes are so big.
- Summer Comiket is not an infernal deathtrap of hot, sweaty otaku. It's fun!
- You were upset that Optimus Prime had a mouth in the Hollywood film.
- Standing in line at the con, you would consider jumping into a Robotech-Macross debate between strangers on a point of clarification.
- You argue that Gamera 4 is non-canonical because the roar was wrong (and add that a turtle and a tortoise are NOT the same).
- You do, in fact, know what moe means. Are you an otaku? Do you have otaku friends you can’t relate to? Then let The Otaku Encyclopedia expand your knowledge of the fascinating subculture of Cool Japan. This definitive guide introduces the world of Japan's anime nerds, game geeks, and pop-idol fanboys, with over 600 terms that any fan of Japanese pop culture simply must know. Moe, doujinshi, cosplay, and most importantly otaku itself, are clearly explained in a fun yet informative way by a self-confessed otaku who has spent years researching the otaku heartland. Scattered among the encyclopedic entries are interviews with key otaku like artist Takashi Murakami, otaku expert Okada Toshio, J-pop idol Shoko Nakagawa, and many others entrenched in the world of maid cafes, street-idols, and figure collecting. An essential A-to-Z of otaku culture not to be missed. Otaku: Nerd; geek, or fanboy. Originates from a polite second-person pronoun meaning “your home” in Japanese. Since the 1980s it’s been used to refer to people who are really into Japanese pop culture, such as anime, manga, and video games. A whole generation of people, previously marginalized with labels such as “geek” and “nerd” are now calling themselves “otaku” with pride.
“You can't possibly be called an 'otaku' without this book.” — Danny Choo, www.dannychoo.com
“Galbraith's knowledge of Akihabara's history and current manifestations makes the neighborhood's warrens of obscurity feel vivid and layered, like a promising archeological dig.” — Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica
“Prepare for a wild, educational, and entertaining ride!” — from the foreword by Frederik L. Schodt, author of Manga! Manga!
“The author is clearly knowledgeable and the entries are rarely short blurbs, but are richly detailed and informative.” — The Gaming Dungeon
“The Otaku Encyclopedia is obviously a treasure trove and necessary for anyone who is interested in anime and manga, but it also has much to offer anyone interested in Japanese history, society or linguistics.”— Shelf Awareness
“This inexpensive, attractive and useful reference should have wide appeal for both otaku patrons and librarians working with manga and anime.”— Library Journal
About the Author
Patrick W. Galbraith is a journalist based in Tokyo. He specializes in Japanese popular culture and writes regular columns for Metropolis magazine, and the Otaku2.com website. He is a Ph.D. candidate researching otaku at the University of Tokyo, and is a familiar face in Akihabara, where he gives regular tours of the otaku capital dressed as Goku from Dragon Ball. His writing has also appeared in Akiba Today and Akibanana, and he has academic articles upcoming in Signs, Positions, Mechademia and the Journal of Japanese Studies. Asaki Katsuhide is a photographer based in Tokyo. His work has appeared internationally in magazines such as Marie Claire and The Face. Moe-pon, the blue-haired, kawaii mascot appearing throughout the book, was created by illustrator Akashiro Miyu, who is currently in her third year of studies at Osaka Communication Arts College.