Intro to American Otaku Culture

It seems necessary to present an introduction from the most macro-viewpoint of national culture before getting to  further the nitty gritty details of the Otaku niche. Here are my explorations of the outermost layers of  US American otaku culture.

Mixing Pot vs. Salad Bowl Cultural Ideas

Many Americans learn in primary school that the nation is a “Melting Pot” of peoples. The metaphor relates how the cultural identities of incumbent immigrants are assimilated into the national identity, which is also impacted by the addition. The cultural identities “melt” like ingredients into a soup, maintaining many original tastes but also adopting more strongly the flavour of the base itself-the American national identity. The “broth” is also affected by the inclusion of these ingredients. This cultural idea has been part of how Americans define their culture for over a century. More recently, and particularly after the civil rights movement of the 1960s, an alternative idea of a “salad bowl” has become popular in academic conversations about cultural identity. In this model, different “ingredients” or cultural identities exist separately and juxtaposed to each other, still maintaining their unique identity while being an active part of the whole.

 

Anime Con Culture Overview

Much of the history related here I’ve learned through countless conversations with Anime Con “elders” (often only 40 or 50 years old) who recount consistently similar oral histories and stories about the rise of Anime Cons.

 

In the 1970s and 1980s, science fiction conventions often incorporated anime into their programming. Despite the fact that offering anime gave the conventions an additional draw to their membership, anime fans at sci fi cons were often ostracized, and their viewing rooms were often placed in an out-of-the-way corner or off a rear corridor of the venue. This act of “othering” is a common phenomenon in the crafting of group identity: we are this, because we aren’t that. Exclusion, therefore, is an exercise of community building. At sci fi cons, anime was included for drawing on similar themes (technology, robotics, etc.) but excluded for being outside the relative norm.

As anime became more popular and their isolated viewing rooms filled,  many of these anime-fan black sheep came together and split off the parent sci fi convention to form their own, smaller but independent anime conventions. The 1990s saw an anime boom as Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z (and later Pokemon) were shown on major network/non-cable channels. These shows’ popularity were even more bolstered by syndication on the Cartoon Network programming block “Toonami.” In anime con culture, the “Toonami generation” refers to this group of anime fans who were introduced to the art form from these popular 90s shows.

Anime cons have since become an edifice in US popular culture. The largest cons have over 30,000 attendees, and almost every city has an anime con on the East Coast. According to animecons.com, there are more than 150 anime cons in the US scheduled for 2015.  

I posit that these cons are gathering points for an unique cultural identity, the Otaku, which is a third-cultured mix of Japanese and US American cultures. The Anime Con serves as a homebase for these third-cultured individuals. A noticeable majority of anime conventions are education-oriented nonprofit organizations, and these cons are hosted by lay-people who often have no professional event planning experience. The staffers are volunteers, who put in hundreds of hours of planning and execution to pull off one-to-three-day events. The largest East Coast convention, Otakon, is a three-day event with over seven hundred volunteer staff that hosts more than thirty thousand members. While the event pulls in millions of dollars each year, the only paid staff are the outsourced accountants and the lawyers of the non-profit Otakorp incorporation.

All anime cons follow the same structure: con-goers can meet famous Japanese and American guests, attend lectures, concerts, dances, and workshops, as well as buy licensed and unique fanwork wares in the (“dealers room” and “artist alley”) markets.  Anime conventions represent the best of both Japanese and US American cultures: Japanese ingenuity and embracing of novelty with US work ethic, Japanese collectivity and team work with US ambition and self-motivation, Japanese fanaticism and American inclusivity.

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Challenges to Otaku Culture: Conclusion

This is the concluding entry of a 5-part series on the threats to the cohesiveness and health of the Otaku community.

Top Five Challenges to Otaku Culture:

  1. Bullying of Adolescent Otaku
  2. Deletion of Racial Differences
  3. Body Shaming
  4. Reinforcement of Anti-Social Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori
  5. Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes

Conclusion:

Politicians worldwide accept the power of media and artists. If one doesn’t respect them, one won’t remain a politician for long. There’s a reason why journalists and artists are the first to be imprisoned or killed when a dictator takes over.  Artists themselves tend to be wholly (blissfully) ignorant of the power they wield. Some are shocked into contemplating their effect on people’s psyches, a burden author J.D. Salinger grappled with after several murderers sited his fiction as impetus for their violence.

From what I’ve seen and experienced, all artistic creators face a dilemma: with each world or narrative you create, you either reinforce dominant paradigms or subvert them. If you write about a society free from racial differences, there will probably still be hetero-normality. If you create a story with nontraditional gender roles, you may ignore class. Higher up the food chain, major publishing houses and film production companies pick and choose which “progressive” elements to incorporate in each product, for taking all of them creates a story too slow in plot development or too much suspension of disbelief that it will no longer resonate with audiences. Art is powerful. It teaches us much about ourselves and molds our children. It can be the greatest unifier and the most destructive poison for our world.

Challenges to Otaku Culture: Misogyny

This is an entry of a 5-part series on the threats to the cohesiveness and health of the Otaku community.

Top Five Challenges to Otaku Culture:

  1. Bullying of Adolescent Otaku
  2. Deletion of Racial Differences
  3. Body Shaming
  4. Reinforcement of Anti-Social Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori
  5. Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes 

Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes (Note: This is now an edited version that has updated material 1/2015.) 

If one lets Japanese media speak for itself, it appears that Japan’s society leans more toward the binary, traditional idea of gender roles than America. In media designated for a general audience, female characters are relegated to being a prize or a nemesis. When they are integrated as members of a team of protagonists, their distinguishing characteristics are often purity, gentleness, and beauty. The population acts in accordance to such perceptions of women by emulating role models put forth by media. Thus, one would expect the societal and economic role of women to remain more firmly tied to domesticity than ambition. The Economist published an article in May 2014 proclaiming, “Women’s lowly status in the Japanese workplace has barely improved in decades, and the country suffers as a result.” The article went on to include explanation of the term the “bamboo ceiling” that bars women from promotion to the top of corporations, after the American “glass ceiling.” The bamboo ceiling, by comparison, is not nearly as transparent as the American equivalent, and much sturdier. While the media portrayal of gender roles is not the singular factor in the shaping society and economy, it remains a salient contributor to the molding of such norms.

Japanese media’s influence does not stop at the Pacific Ocean. We have seen many examples of the strong trade and importation of Japanese art and the ideas that come with it. For Americans, the transmission and edification of ultra-conservative gender roles influences our culture in different ways. Once again, reaction to this is split between healthy and unhealthy individuals.

Some react in healthy ways. Otakus, especially adult women Otakus, emerge from the influx of varying ideas of societal and gender norms as strong, assertive, self-assured individuals. I see similarities between women in the Otaku community and women in STEM: they are so well-acquainted with sexism and boy’s clubs mentalities that their confident personalities are forged into a no-nonsense, straight forward manner to boldly face all challenges, whether they be gender-specific or not. On the other hand, less strong women in both communities conform and defer to the normal gender roles and biases, sinking into the background with more demure temperament rather than rocking the boat.

If one follows the idea that the mixing and superimposing one culture onto another can influence the macro-psychology of a population, we end in the very alarming of concept of two distinct rape cultures merging to transmit very destructive ideas on a group of people.

Rape is an issue in both cultures, and is increasingly incorporated into narratives in both Japanese and American media. Shoujo has used rape scenes in character development so often that it has become a trope. Hana Yori Dango has at least five attempted rapes, and even the positively viewed Ouran High School Host Club features an episode revolving around the necessity for the female protagonist to not “ask for” being raped by engaging boy bullies. As for American major motion pictures, we recently saw our first on-screen rape attempt in which a girl protagonist was pinned down and straddled by a man who held a position of power over her in the film Divergent. Using such scenes is a double-edged sword: some will walk away feeling less alone in the knowledge that there are other rape survivors, and others will believe the idea of raping someone is normal.

More often we see examples of less violent aggression against women. As the roles women play in media are flattened to a binary, so is the consumer’s expectation of women in real life, consciously or subconsciously. The objectification of women has been a problem for both countries at least since post-World War II. In Japan, there is the perception that many salary men seek out paid companions to appease sexual appetites that their honorable wives do not fill. In America, we have the term “madonna-whore complex” to describe a person who sees women as either pure and wholesome or sexual and debase. This psychological complex is often cited as the reason why serial rapists commit their crimes.

As two cultures that are oppressive of women converge on a population, we may expect to see individuals with very strong, toxically unhealthy ideas of gender norms. With two different cultures presenting varied, nuanced explanations for the objectification, infantiliziation, and sexualiation of women, an unhealthy individual could be socialized to be destructive force.  

The story does not end here. In the Otaku community, we have seen women, especially female cosplayers, fight back against unwanted masculine attention and objectifying behaviour at cons. “Cosplay is not Consent” is the slogan for a campaign of young women to gain recognition and respect from their fellow community members after fighting an increasing amount of privacy invasions, micro-aggressions, and personal assaults while wearing costumes of their favorite characters.

 

 

 

Challenges to Otaku Culture: Body Shaming

This is an entry of a 5-part series on the threats to the cohesiveness and health of the Otaku community.

Top Five Challenges to Otaku Culture:

  1. Bullying of Adolescent Otaku
  2. Deletion of Racial Differences 
  3. Body Shaming
  4. Reinforcement of Anti-Social Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori 
  5. Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes 

Body Shaming

While non-whites are absent from anime to reflect the norm in Japan, so too is the depiction of body weight in Japanese media. While 33% of adult Americans are obese, only 5% of Japanese are. The visual media of Japan reflects a healthier and thinner populace. Among young American Otaku cosplayers, this means that many feel inadequate to emulate their favorite characters if they are not physically fit. At in-person events like cons, body shaming is publicly frowned upon. However, with the internet’s mask of anonymity, weight-related insults, as well as racial slurs, are thrown about with abandon. Among more mature cosplayers, self-doubt evaporates as they accept their bodies, have healthy self-image, and understand completely that characters in anime/manga/videogames do not have realistic proportions, as part of Japanese style features super long legs and extremely large eyes. Fantastical expectations for one’s body do not apply to a cosplayer who has a healthy mindset, but younger Otaku are targeted and impacted by ridiculous and needlessly demeaning comments.

 

Challenges to Otaku Culture: Racial Erasure

This is an entry of a 5-part series on the threats to the cohesiveness and health of the Otaku community.

Top Five Challenges to Otaku Culture:

  1. Bullying of Adolescent Otaku
  2. Deletion of Racial Differences 
  3. Body Shaming
  4. Reinforcement of Anti-Social Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori 
  5. Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes 

 

Deletion of Racial Differences (i.e. “White Washing):

This is an issue for Otaku who consume visual Japanese popular media: manga, anime, and video games. Characters rendered in these media generally are highly stylized with pale, white skin, and hair colors ranging from flat black to red frizzy curls and from blonde spikes to knee length blue pigtails. The characters are not ethnically diverse because Japan isn’t ethnically diverse. According to the CIA factbook, Japan’s ethnicity breaks down into 98.5% Japanese, 0.5% Korean, 0.4% Chinese and 0.6% Other. For comparison, in the US we have a population that is 80% white, 13% black, and 4% Asian. Americans who consume Japanese media become comfortable with a strictly white cast. For whites, this results in increased blind privilege, inhibited socialization with minorities, and further estrangement from the other 20% of the US population. For blacks and other minorities, it is one more example of erasure and invisibility from global media.

The absence of depiction of ethnically diverse characters has varying impacts. As always, for those empowered, healthy Otaku, it is a non-issue. Many anime cons have ethnically diverse staffs, and minorities hold positions of power. For Otaku who are less healthy and feel disempowered, it is easy for the seemingly all-white casts to reinforce previously-held, negative racial stereotypes.

 

Challenges to Otaku Culture: Bullying

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be exploring the top five threats to Otaku culture.

Top Five Challenges to Otaku Culture:

  1. Bullying of Adolescent Otaku (today)
  2. Body Shaming (Hopefully to be posted on the 19th)
  3. Deletion of Racial Differences (hopefully posted before Christmas) 
  4. Reinforcement of Anti-Social Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori (hopefully posted before year-end) 
  5. Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes (hopefully posted before year-end)

 

Bullying of Adolescent Otaku

The first issue Otaku must face is that of bullying. During adolescence, it appears that a high proportion of Otaku are bullied. According to an informal study, it is possible that half of all teenage Otakus have experienced bullying. Otaku are different from their peers in the area of socio-linguistic development. With language, one produces what one consumes, and Otaku’s consumption of Japanese-based media alters their sociolinguistic pathways: even if they are reading subtitles or listening to a dubbed translation, exposure to different beats of conversation and context create a diversity in modes of expression.

Think of the lingual cortex as a dense forest. Ideas and language used to express them are pathways which one has forged through the trees and brush. (Those with more linguistic talent are armed with machetes for cutting through the creepers.) The more one walks these paths, the more one expresses these ideas, the quicker and easier the travel becomes. TCKs and Otaku foster pathways that their mono-cultured peers do not, so the pathways the peers take are more quickly navigated, and Otaku sometimes have to back off of one path to jump to another to be on the same page as their peers, resulting in a language delay. In some cases, the slower processing time to navigate between several paths is so impactful that some Otaku, much like their TCK peers, will default to a deferential personality type rather than struggle with awkward time gaps in dialogue. Certainly, this difference in socio-linguistic development (or, for sociologists out there–deficit in social capital) is not the only reason why a person may be targeted by a bully, but these circumstances do not help a temporarily bad situation.

As Otaku mature, bullying becomes less of an issue, but the negativity remains. Adult Otaku face adversity from within and without: many have internalized the negativity they faced as a child and/or the social stigma they face as an adult. On the popular crowdsourcing definition site, UrbanDictionary.com, four of the top five definitions of “otaku” are negative. The most popular definition, with thousands of up-votes, characterizes Otaku as people who “don’t have a life.”

This begs the question if other “fans” also don’t have lives when celebrating their passion. It is a common argument in the nerd community: if sports fans aren’t put down for spending hundreds of dollars and days of their lives enjoying and supporting their teams of choice, then why do we dismiss Otaku for their enthusiasm of anime, videogames, or cosplay? First of all, Otaku are once again disparaged for simply being outside of the norm. Secondly, and more specific to US American culture, is that we don’t value play. In the early 1900s, German scholar Max Weber wrote a cogent treatise on the intersection of capitalism and the Protestant faith. His analysis of  has become one of the top ten texts read by all US social scientists. He exposes that in cultures rooted in the Protestant faith, such as the USA, the idea of a “vocation” mitigates importance on work and being “occupied” by work. Our Protestant work ethic means we live our lives for our vocation, and hobbies are undervalued. Applied to the matter at hand, Otaku spending time enjoying their passion is seen as “destructive” to their professional life.

Most Otaku now are educated and have the knowledge and skillset to examine such negativity analytically, and the vocabulary both to express their experiences and to educate the younger generation on how to deal with adversity. Once again, anime cons prove to be examples of the best of Otaku culture, as many have had workshops and panels on combating otaku stigma and overcoming bullying.

Otaku: Globalization’s First Children?

“Go abroad.” This is the advice given to thousands of US college students each year. Having studied abroad or living experience in a foreign country is perceived to be a universal boon to one’s resume. Living in a new culture is likewise perceived as a plus no matter what your field: study abroad–it’s not just for liberal arts students anymore! The experience of living abroad can be harrowing or euphoric. It can be beneficial or detrimental to one’s studies. It can be the most rigorous academic work or the most like a vacation one could have as student. It can ignite passions and extinguish others. Any experience abroad, even a bad one, is seen as a positive by employers, academic institutions, and any social network. Why then, if the experience itself can be so detrimental, is it in such high regard and even higher demand?

Part of this is perception. Certainly, having an association with someone with a global background makes the company seem more globally minded. “International experience” is an easy sell in the ever-globalizing world where we live. In many circles, experience abroad is an exotic quality that purveys a certain type of affluence and connectivity that is essentially appealing.

For the quality of having experience abroad to become such a salient and interdisciplinary desired trait, more than appearances must keep it in high demand.

Experience in a foreign culture has not always been seen in such a positive light. During the 1950s-1970s, many dignitaries (and other personnel aiding in the execution of the Marshall Plan,) agreed that abroad experience was damaging to children’s psyches and social development.  American children born to parents living abroad were called “Third Culture Kids,” a term which I was first acquainted by a wonderful Advent sermon at the American Church of Paris. Historically, Third Culture Kids (TCKs) were characterized as socially stunted, unable to connect with their national culture or the foreign culture in which they were immersed. They identified with neither the foreign culture where they lived nor the one printed on their passports, and thus became a part of a Third Culture, only able to truly identify with other TCKs. Furthermore, they were seen to withdraw from individuals of only one culture, unable to adapt to circumstances and perceptions of their mono-cultured peers.

From what I’ve seen and experienced, this alienation stems from sociolinguistic edifices internally erected during the abroad experience. Individuals (here: children) have exposure to certain ideas and linguistic codes to express those ideas in their primary culture. At school or in the public sphere, they are given a different set of linguistic codes to express the foreign (secondary) culture’s differing ideas. Certainly, discussing the disparity or conflict between these two codes is a strong point of mental deliberation as individuals navigate reconciliation of the two. The acts of reconciling the two creates and substantiates a tertiary culture. This experience shapes personality and one’s life and easily becomes a point of commonality and resonance among individuals who have experienced living in foreign cultures. The dwelling in the third culture was, I assume, seen as a negative force for self-alienation from secondary cultures during that time period. After enough time elapsed for the children to stabilize and grow into adults, the capacity to utilize multiple advanced sociolinguistic codes is not destructive or wholly positive for overall communication.

As related in the sermon, and more recently commonly discussed, the popular opinion (as well as child psychologists’ opinions) of TCKs has completely flipped. Abroad experience is now beneficial to a child’s development, as TCKs are thought to have better communication skills than their mono-cultured peers, greater capacity to empathize with those from different points of view and circumstances, ability to adapt (they are often likened to chameleons), and are proven diplomats for mediating conflict and clashes of differing points of view. All these skills are sharpened from living immersed in a foreign culture.

For college-aged students, these arguments also apply, but they are supplemented with the added quality of grace under fire, and the capability to easily handle stressful situations and crises.

What does this have to do with Japanese influence in the USA? I posit that the Otaku of the Toonami Generation underwent a new form of post-geographic acculturation,  resulting in the formation of a new type of third cultured children.

When I first began interacting with Otaku at anime cons in 2012, the threads of dialogue were always similar. The main impetus for individuals to attend a con was the feeling of “community” and “being at home” with other Otaku. They could connect with other Otaku where  they could not with individuals in their immediate communities. They felt alienated from their peers, who had not experienced this new Japanese culture as they had. They immersed themselves in the culture,  absorbing the values, mores, and ideas transmitted through the media and any other supplemental research they may have pursued. They developed their own vernacular to describe their experiences and the tenets of Japanese culture which resonate most closely with their own personalities. These traits fit the same psychological profile of TCKs who grow up abroad. Otaku of the Toonami Generation have all the benefits and challenges of other children who are immersed in foreign cultures without every leaving the borders of their homeland.

American otaku are excellent global citizens. Having been exposed to foreign viewpoints in the media they consume, they are able to quickly understand different perspectives in their everyday life. Further along these lines, they are able to alter their own attitudes and outlooks and adapt quickly when circumstances demand change. From Japanese culture in particular, they have gained a deeper understanding of technology and its effect on our lives, patience and empathy for differing personalities and varying competence for self-expression, and are teamwork gurus.

While getting to know Otakus on a personal level illuminates these positive qualities, nothing quite exemplifies the best traits of Otaku quite like the social institution of a Japanese culture convention. North America has thousands of anime cons. The top five, each of which is not for profit and volunteer-run, see an excess of twenty-five thousand attendees. Most are multimillion dollar enterprises.

With all these advantages, Otaku bring great benefits to the companies and organizations to which they are dedicated. These advantages occur when an empowered American Otaku absorbs the best traits of Japanese culture, but what challenges lie for weaker individuals to be affected by the worst parts of that same culture? That will be explored in a follow-up blog post on challenges to the Otaku community. 

A Spectrum of Cultural Identities: Japanophile, Otaku, and Weeaboo

 

Since 1995, media from foreign countries can more easily permeate US American line-of-sight. With a few clicks on the Internet, we can find or are shown, foreign music videos, films, and blogs. This has lead to an increased diversity of popular media, especially music, penetrating the American market. (For example, Moldova’s O-Zone “Dragostea din Tei” in 2004,  2012 South Korea’s PSY “Oppa Gagnam Style,” and early this year, Norway’s Ylvis “The Fox.”) Cuisine, fashion, and video games have also been heavily impacted by the influence of globalization and increased internationalization as trends more and more easily flow across national borders.

Even though Japan and America fought a war during the first half of the twentieth century, by the turn of the millenium relations had much improved due to the Marshall Plan’s legacy and increased trade between the two countries. Astro Boy, which was shown on major broadcast networks in the 1960s, garnered the first generation of anime fans here in the US. It is interesting to note that a majority of the viewers of the show were unaware of its Japanese origin. For the children who tuned in, it was merely a cartoon. By the 1980s, trade relations were strong between the two countries, and the US media included non-demonized Japanese and Asian characters in pop culture (“Domo Arigato, Mister Roboto” and Gedde Watanabe’s roles in Sixteen Candles and UHF). American teenagers watched the anime Speed Racer (this time knowing it was Japanese) and intellectuals were touting their high brow culture by dining on sushi.

The 1990s saw a pro-Japan boom with the tween popularity cresting on Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon. For the first time, we saw non-English, foreign canon franchise products infiltrating US markets en masse: Dragon Ball Z manga (Japanese style comic books) being sold nationwide in Books-A-Million chain stores, Sailor Moon alarm clocks and accessories being sold at Claire’s Boutiques, and VHS tapes of Pokemon at Toys-R-Us. Armed with dial-up Internet and Windows 95 Home PCs, children who watched these shows were also enabled to learn more about Japanese culture during their formative years.

As a Sailor Moon fan of the 90s, I was greatly impressed by the widespread geographic dispersion of fans, as well as how many were creative in their enthusiasm. I remember spending hours on image-hosting websites, crafting my own GeoCities fansite with pages dedicated to each character, and slowly downloading gifs and jpegs of art and electronic, tinny midi files of music. I even downloaded and printed out a Sailor Moon-themed cookbook, and I still to this day use that recipe for Snickerdoodles, a cookie unheard of in my corner of the world.

For some fans, these shows were just a passing phase. Many, however, would continue their love of Japanese anime and manga. Their appreciation would grow to include other art forms: fashion and high fashion (aka cosplay,) videogames, music, and cuisine. These individuals would become Otaku. Their love of this foreign culture impacting their lives.

Otakudom is different for each individual. Some choose a particular series–e.g. Sailor Moon or Naruto–then grow and develop alongside the protagonists every stage of their childhood, adolescence, and adulthood through the fifty-plus books in the franchise. Western narrative lacks these long-haul stories, with the notable exception of trendsetting Harry Potter.  Other Otakus adopt a certain artform, such as cosplay or JRPGs, spend hours learning the details and nuance of those forms, and design their own creations after the Japanese style.

Otakus’ love also drives them to spend time/money on Japanese goods and culture rather those of the USA. Spending time being immersed, if only indirectly, in Japanese culture primes Otakus to become even more involved in that foreign lifestyle. When they meet other Otakus at cons, this foreign influence is only reinforced as they are given both social and marketplace trade opportunities to acquire more knowledge and cultural artifacts. Simply put, loving one element of Japanese culture enables individuals to love more of it, eventually becoming Otaku, and cons only snowball this appreciation.  

At a convention earlier this year, I was introduced to the idea of a “weeaboo.”  For the Otaku community, weeaboos are people who seek to constantly immerse themselves in Japanese culture, despite living in the USA, in a conscious and often pretentiously declared attempt to “become Japanese,” forsaking their own native culture. Most Otaku view weeaboos with contempt, especially since weeaboos are generally over-enthusiastic young people going through a phase, but also because of a quiet understanding that these individuals see Japan through an extremely exotified lens. Another point of contention lies in weeaboos’ propensity to value the small tangent of culture to which they’ve been exposed as more important than the whole of Japanese culture. The culture is diminished and compressed to an item to acquire or a status to achieve rather than a living, breathing, multi-faceted set of ideas and mores.

When I heard the idea of weeaboo in the Otaku community, I was happy to see a distinction being made between fans who enthusiastically engage the culture and those who simply exotify it. The practice of exclusion also makes for a tighter community, and weeaboos are possibly the best party to exclude. Rather than dividing along race or gender lines like many other subcultures, Otakus are actively excluding people who make unhealthy decisions and ignorant judgements.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Japanophiles. Japanophiles number far fewer than the Otaku population. These individuals have a culturally relativistic appreciation for Japanese culture. They understand the worth of this foreign culture and seek to learn more about it. They study the language and read Japanese texts in the original form. They become East Asia studies minors (or majors). They apply to the prestigious and highly exclusive JET Programme in order to teach English in Japan for two years. They learn about Japan not only through its cultural exports but also through academic texts. They explore not only its culture, but also its economy, politics, and history.

Thus we have a spectrum of engagement with Japanese culture, ranging from a culturally relativistic point of view (Japanophile) through casual albeit enthusiastic fan (Otaku) to that of extreme exotification (Weeaboo).