Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Debating Japanese Culture: Otaku vs. Weeaboo

If you are a fan of Japanese pop culture and easily offended, this post is probably not for you. For all the rest of us who look at Japanese culture from the fringes, the debate over otaku vs. weeaboo is at least interesting. In some cases, this is even the stuff for self-serving internet posts like this one.

Both ‘otaku’ and ‘weeaboo’ are terms that fans of anime, manga, and kawaii are normally familiar with. Fans sometimes use these words to describe one another. So where does the debate come in? Definitions. Some Western fans of Japanese culture do not see any difference in the terms. Others do. Making matters worse is that ‘weeaboo’ isn’t even a legitimate Japanese word.

Real vs. Made Up

The start of the debate is word origin. ‘Otaku’ is a legitimate word in the Japanese language. ‘Weeaboo’ is not only foreign to Japanese, but also not part of any recognized language. It’s a made-up word that was developed to replace another made-up word being used as a racial slur in the early 2000’s.

As for definitions, that depends on where you live or who you ask. Different definitions only fuel the debate further. Can someone be weeaboo and not be otaku? Does someone first have to be otaku before they can be weeaboo? Can someone be both at the same time? Oh, the complexities of it all. It is enough to make your head spin.

Otaku in Japan and the West

Let us attempt to define the two words, beginning with otaku. The Umai website recently published a post explaining the basics of otaku. Incidentally, Umai sells T-shirts, sweatshirts, phone cases and more, all featuring original anime artwork.

They describe otaku as a derogatory term in Japan. It wasn’t always that way. The term used to be an honorable one describing people who showed a particular interest in a given topic. But due to some unfortunate events involving a serial killer who was obsessed with anime and manga, the term became a derogatory one. Today, being otaku in Japan means being so obsessed with something as to be dysfunctional. Otaku people do not have to be obsessed with anime. It could be anything.

In the West, being otaku is not a bad thing. An otaku person is simply a fan of anime, manga, or both. Some fans are more dedicated than others, but it is no different than sports fans. Here you can be otaku without being dysfunctional.

Weeaboo in the West

If the Western world has an equivalent of Japan’s otaku, it is weeaboo. If you are an American fan of anime and manga to the extent that someone refers to you as weeaboo, your fandom goes beyond mere passion for an art form. Instead, you are so obsessed with all things Japanese that you try to behave like a Japanese person.

A telltale sign of being weeaboo is dressing like Japanese teens typically dress. You use Japanese phrases and compare everything in your life to how it’s done in Japan. In some cases, your behavior is actually offensive too. Others deem it to be cultural appropriation by a Westerner who obsesses over Japanese culture without showing a proper understanding or respect.

Of course, there is plenty of room for overlap. If you have been accused of being either one, you probably read this post with a growing hostility bubbling inside you. But hey, that’s probably proof that criticisms of your behavior are spot on. At any rate, the debate continues and likely will for the foreseeable future. As they say in Cleveland, rock on!

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