Otaku Social Pariahs Within Japan

by Ellen Pilot

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At the end of last year Bill 156 was passed in Japan. The purpose of the bill is to protect the development of Japanese youth from harmful media. The media that has been labeled as harmful is anime and manga that glorifies sexual acts. This is not particularly incomprehensible, even if it is completely misguided, since many parents would not want their children to look at pornography. The Bill also states that any martial where the characters, especially underage characters, participate in illegal acts is also banned. However, it is interesting that “real life” photography and film is excluded. Why is this the case? Because this Bill is not an anti-anime law, it is in fact an anti-otaku law. I think that any self-proclaimed American anime fan has seen at least one anime where it has been pointed out that otaku are marginalized in Japan. But there is never much explanation given for this fact. In anime, otaku are used as kind-spirited comedy founder or take up the role of the sadly misunderstood misfit. Their obsessive traits are endearing to their audience, since it is a mirror of them. It could be seen as a kind of reassurance to the audience that are neither scary nor threatening, despite what the majority of Japanese people think. This brings us back to the question that this essay will address, why are otaku social pariahs in Japan?

An obvious place to start discussing the anti-otaku feeling that permeates Japan is the criminal case of Tsutomu Miyazaki, or the Otaku Murder. In the late 1980s, he kidnapped and killed four girls aged four to seven years old. He also maimed and molested their corpses; he even dabbled in cannibalism with the third and fourth victims. This would be a shocking and horrible crime anywhere in the world, but with Japan’s low crime rate, especially with offenses involving children, it was practically appalling. The crimes were actually dubbed “The Little Girl Murders” at first, but after Miyazaki’s apartment was raided, he was given the other title. His apartment contained 5,763 pieces of media, mostly VHS and Betamax tapes. The tapes were of bishojo anime, porn, TV movies and shows, and very violent slasher movies, one of which he used as a template for one of his murders.

His room fit the model of the typical otaku room, and Miyazaki, being very troubled and withdrawn, fit the bill of the emblematic otaku at the time. He said that he wasn’t responsible for his crimes, that it was actually the Rat Man that did all those terrible things. The media showed people images of Miyazaki and his room, using them to get across the message that this is where the otaku life style leads. They get so enchanted by fantastic worlds that they cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality, causing them to become disturbed. It seems more than possible that Miyazaki’s obsession with media was in actuality a symptom of his mental illness, verse being the cause of it. This sadly does not really count for much, since the Japanese public does not believe this to be true. Plus, there have been other incidents since the Otaku Murder case where otaku have be reportedly lured by fantasy, compelling them to act violently.

In 1995 a cult, entitled The Aum Supreme Truth, released toxic gas in a Tokyo subway, which killed twelve people and injured thousands, and this cult was comprised of primarily of otaku. Chizuo Matsumoto, who renamed himself Shoko Asahara, styled himself the captain of a ship in Space Battleship Yamato. He opened up a shop in Akihabara and talked to people, mostly unhappy young men, about how the worlds presented in anime pale in comparison to the harsh realities of their lives. Matsumoto prayed on this disappointment and sorrow to recruit people into his cult, and at one point he had 10,000 followers.

Violent acts that have been committed by a handful of well publicized people are not the only reason why otaku are socially stigmatized; it has to do with everyday aspects of Japanese social life. Otaku with their obsessions with 2D girls, either claim to not want to real woman or set themselves up to belief they could never get one, are contributing, in their own small way, to the low Japanese birthrate. This is a source of great stress to many people on many levels. Not only for the aging population, fearing that there will be no one to take care of them, or by business men thinking that their industries will have to shrink, but also on a larger social level. Japan was formally an agrarian society, and as said in my previous essay, fertility of both plants and people was highlighted as being very important. And if a person isn’t reproducing like they should, they are marginalized.

Otaku are seen as part of the problem because instead of growing up into reasonable young men of the new generation, they yield most of their spare time to their hobbies instead of finding and dating women. In Japan, you’re not considered complete in a lot of respects until you get married, and this is the case for both men and women. If a man is unmarried and over 30 years old, he’s considered untrustworthy by his peers. Otaku are also thought as being childish because of their compulsive spending habits. As a whole, otaku yield billions of US dollars a year to their hobbies instead of being very thoughtful with their money, as most Japanese people are socialized to do.

One thing that also could work against Japanese otaku is how often they appear to speak in references. I don’t have much evidence of this beyond anime, but there are quite a few jokes in Lucky Star, Genshikin, Densha Otoko, and Oreimo, just to name a few, were an otaku throws around a lot of anime terminology and whatever “normal” person in the vicinity looks confused and exasperated. People tend to fear what they do not understand, so the fact that otaku speak their own special language among their friends, could be a contributing factor. There are a lot of factors that lead to the passing of Bill 156, and I hope I was able to enlighten a few people about what they are.

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Author: Ellen Pilot

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  • Grumpy Jii

    Children have always been afforded special protections in civilized societies, because they are its most vulnerable members. It is difficult for them to make informed choices, defend themselves, or even to seek help. So they are guarded by a web of laws: child welfare laws, child labor laws, and even liquor and cigarette laws. They are further protected by “voluntary” rules that were created largely to preempt legislation: access to theaters showing R-rated films, access to violent or explicit video games, and so on. Naturally, as children grow up and approached the “age of consent”, they begin to chafe under the restrictions. A biological age can only approximate maturity.

    Laws against depiction of children in sexually provocative situations is nearly universal in civilized society, and doesn’t just apply to minors. It’s to prevent innocent children from being victimized by pedophiles, either in the creation of such material, or by incitement. In the last decade, a great deal more material skirting on the edge of “child porn” has leaked from the shadows into mainstream Japanese manga and anime.

    Perhaps another factor that led to Japan’s growing concern with otaku is its growing number of hikikomori. Much of that is at least perceived as being associated with otaku subculture. By some estimates, there are as many as a million hikikomori in Japan. ( ) (If accurate, that’s comparable to the number of Americans with AIDS.) It could be dismissed as a merely excentric lifestyle choice if hikikomori were gainfully employed and could support themselves, but many of them have become a nonproductive burden on Japanese society’s resources. It’s not their failure to procreate that causes concern, it’s their failure to keep a job.

    Negative depiction of otaku is almost as old as the term itself. “Otaku no Video” comes to mind. However, most of this is targeted at and consumed by otaku themselves, a self-referential inbreeding that may reinforce the very behavior it mocks, but those shows probably aren’t watched by any non-otaku audience.

  • Liberator

    Good article. But the stigma against Otaku probably has less to do with their interest in 2D, than the fact that anime/manga is not consider acceptable to the mainstream. With the common viewpoint that animation is only for children, having young adults interested in 2D would easily seen as a threat.

    Yet I think Bill 156 represents more in terms of society’s (not just Japan, but everywhere) stupidity in trying to solve major economic and social issues in the simplest methods possible. After all, how can a person “grow up” when most jobs available are contractual based (low pay, no benefits or job security), and potential partners, per occasional postings from the website Sankaku Complex (NSFW), are more interested in how much you are making. And when politicians, business leaders, and regular voters are challenged with serious economic and social ills, there is nothing easier than blaming the marginalized than to actually solving the problems.

  • darkkodiak

    Wow, awesome article. What I find really interesting is how this stigma parallel gamers in American society. What I do wonder though, is there an organization that advocate for otakus like how there are organizations that advocate for gamers in the USA?

  • Roberto Torres

    I’m fully aware what’s going on in Japan,same thing happen in to gamers in U.S. where media blame vlolent video games that turn kids into killers and also slasher movies,Tsutomu Miyazaki’s crimes gave otakus a bad name and i heard about hikikomori even more a social problem in Japan.

    great article.

  • Ijime

    The ultimate problem with japanese is they are very intolerant to those who are different.Very intolerant and abusive.

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