Friday, January 25, 2019

We Are Otaku

The most profoundly happy people in the world are otaku. I’m as sure of that as I am that Rolex’s Explorer 1 is the nearly perfect watch, Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms looks best without a date window, and Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive movement won’t be invented for another ten years, but has been brought to our time by an enterprising time traveler.

What's more nerdy than a wrist shot
of your Grand Seiko at Tokyo's 
Seiko Museum?
Otaku, おたく, is Japan’s nerd subculture. Not too many years ago, otaku hid in dimly lit manga cafes and the deep recesses of Tokyo’s game centers in Akihabara, a Tokyo neighborhood rich in electronics stores, and manga shops and cafes. Manga are a form of graphic novel with complex and enduring characters. Manga are both art and literature, but they are also a way of life for otaku. It’s not quite accurate to say otaku are people with keen interests in the subculture revolving around manga characters; rather they are people who no more can separate themselves from their interest in manga than any of us can be separated from our beating hearts.

The myth that otaku are recluses, living in manga cafes that require you to speak a secret password to gain entry persists. But in reality, the guy wearing the blue tie and off-the-rack suit in the cubicle next to yours could be a logistics coordinator by day and Dragon Ball cosplayer by night. Otaku are social creatures, often normal in all ways but one. The blog Tofugu describes otaku this way: “As a subculture fueled by gathering and sharing information, otaku don't shun interaction. They depend on it. And sharing information is valued as much as acquiring it.”

What is it that makes Otaku happy?

They have arrived at their destination. They enjoy reading manga. They like what they do and who they are.

Otaku are, as we would say in English, happy in their own skins. Otaku don’t care what you think about them and if you stare at one walking down the street wearing a Hatsune Miku or Rurouni Kenshin costume, they won’t even notice you’re staring. I watched a young couple walking through Akihabara wearing matching anime costumes, holding hands, and radiating a type of pure happiness that warmed everyone they passed. I was envious.

The time spent being otaku is time not spent performing stressful work. Sure, everyone must earn their keep somehow. While many people bring work home with them, otaku generate a force field that blocks stressful thoughts of work, pushing away unpleasantness like a strong north wind before a storm.

We are all otaku.
But when otaku are stressed — and who isn’t sometimes? — they have an escape, an exit at the ready. Some can look at the Astro Boy figurine on their desk and instantly tumble into a better world inside their mind. Some otaku will dash to their favorite manga cafe when troubling thoughts invade their mind. Others will replay scenes in the ir head from the manga they’ve read. Manga is the cure.

Otaku enjoy the company of other otaku; their hobby is the glue of their friendships. I have two friends who have almost nothing in common, with personalities and interests as different as pepperoni pizza and sushi. He likes to travel; she’d prefer to spend every day in Tokyo. But they love cats. In fact, they met because of a cat. Cats are their bond. They are otaku when it comes to cats.

Otaku are rarely bored. Manga culture is an endless sea of richness and diversity. There’s always a new manga coming out; always a new costume, event or chatzky. You can talk about manga characters’ motivations, origins, and what-ifs endlessly without ever stumbling across the same sentence twice

Otaku are passionate about their hobby. They are at the top of a mountain looking out at the world, enjoying every moment and everything in their sight. They want more manga, cosplay, or anime, but are simultaneously sated by what they already have and do.

Otaku enjoy collecting facts as much as they do manga, figurines, costumes and other physical objects. Otaku relish their knowledge and grow even happier as they acquire more information and understanding about their passion. There’s no end to what you can learn.

Otaku are on an adventure of discovery. Being otaku is like visiting a foreign city where every turn of a corner offers the potential for something wondrous to see or exciting to do.

Otaku aren’t show-offs, they don’t have a need to be better than other otaku. There’s no equivalent of office politics among otaku. As Tofugu puts it, “Cosplayers don't just meet to show off. They exchange costume tips... Internet communities share custom art, home-made figures, and fan fiction.” Otaku is a community of commeradre, collaboration and sharing. Otaku derive pleasure from others’ smiles.

What does Otaku have to do with watch collecting? Substitute “otaku” with “watch collector” in the list above and you know the answer: everything.

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