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April 16, 2010

Globalizing Otaku

Posted by u097990n in Uncategorized    

In this entry, I will be discussing the widespread of otaku culture. From the movement “Cool Japan”, otaku has taken on a new platform where it is more globalized and accepted. The concept of ‘Otaku’ is increasingly commercialized and many countries and not surprisingly, Japan are selling products related to this fetishism which contribute a substantial amount to the country’s revenue. In Japan, the Comiket otherwise known as the Comic Market, where it is the world’s largest handmade comic book fair, held twice a year in Tokyo. Comiket 74, in August 2008, had a total of 35,000 comic creators and over 500,000 visitors over its three days. The high profitability from such an event is evident and this is probably why Japan has chosen to be accepting to this “subculture” or what it is referred to now as popular culture.

As Western countries are more open to individualism, the otaku culture is not shunned in America. Instead, the otaku culture is well-liked in USA and it has gained much favourable support from the people as the image of otaku there is “cool” instead of “weird”.  The magazine Otaku USA will be one example, where it is a hot favourite in USA. With an issue distribution of 100,000 copies, the American magazine OTAKU USA is helping spread the word otaku abroad at the same time. The magazine digs deep into the world of Japanese pop culture, so deep the magazine amazes even Japanese otaku. It features everything from the latest animé news and commentary on older Japanese animated films to interviews with animé creators and insider reports on the otaku lifestyle in Japan today.

Cosplay and maid cafes are also heavily related to the otaku culture. Cosplay refers to costume playing, where people dress up as characters from manga and anime. The idea of cosplay was brought to Japan from the US in the 1970s. Costumes have always been popular with USA, as they look upon cosplay as another form of masquerade. To them, donning a costume of a certain character to play a skit is basically their objective. Whereas in Japan (referring to the anime and manga lovers in particular), cosplay has a whole different meaning. These people take it much more seriously, contemplating their disguises by throwing themselves deeply into their roles. As long as they look like their hero, their every action, utterance and thought comes from that character. While US cosplayers generally only dress up for conventions, Japanese cosplay is a central part of a fan’s private life, filling their spare time and weekends. There are about 50,000 regular cosplayers in Japan. Every weekend, urban Japan sees a bizarre parade of colourful outfits. Tokyo’s Akihabara district has a number of cosplay cafes, where enthusiasts can meet like-minded people, show-off their costumes, and exchange ideas. With waitresses dressed in a variety of provocative outfits, these cafes have created a growing otaku community in the area.

Maid cafes are a subcategory of cosplay and it is increasing popular as a commercial product. Besides the cosplay cafes that throng the streets of Akihabara, other countries are also adopting this line of business. For one, Singapore has its only maid cafe located at Chijmes. It is specially catered to those anime and manga die-hard fans. Anime fans in Singapore also have places like Sunshine Plaza where there is a pioneer otaku shop “Kareshi Kanojo no Mise, where the shop owners being otaku themselves are very in tuned with the otaku’s needs, being highly-involved in the local community and sometimes even organizing events for them. In fact, otaku bloggers hang out at the shop so often it has a feel of an anime “club house” where people come and go and a lot of communication takes place.

We can see that otakus who were once considered the outcastes, socially inept and marginal group in Japan is very much established in other countries, where they are many like-minded people. Discrimination i.e. Otaku Hunting is not prevalent in other countries, and the government are welcoming this culture with the introduction of places and events to cater to the interests of these people. We see what it means to be an otaku from a whole new approach, and these people are hardly anti-social. With the globalization of otaku, there is a glimmer of hope that perhaps the discrimination in Japan will cease to exist in the near future.

After a thorough research and comprehensive read-through (but never enough) on the topic of Discrimination in Japan, namely the otakus, the important lessons that I have learnt will be that we can never generalize as there can be many perspectives to look at a subject and how the social institutions are interlinked and cannot exist alone.


Widya Santoso, Cosplay/Anime Costumes and Maquerade Links, accessed on 15th April 2010

Jack Herbert, Cosplay, Japan for the uninvited, 23rd June 2005, accessed on 15th April 2010

K, Where Otaku Hang out in Singapore, 16th November 2008, accessed on 15th April 2010


  1. From your discussion, it seems like the definition/perception/concept of “otaku” is rather different from that in Japan. Any idea why the otaku, perceived as a social deviant in Japan, evolved/got repackaged into something cool and trendy overseas?

      Yuen Shu Min — April 29, 2010 @ 3:15 AM   

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