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iThe Dangers of Mistranslationsn/a

About three years ago I met a Japanese girl who was in London for a student exchange program to learn English, her name was Misako but for some reason unknown to me people called her Lucy, so Lucy it was. A friend introduced us telling her I was a fan of Japan and Japanese culture.
We talked for less than an hour but it was enough for me to realise how some things get mistranslated along the way and have its meaning changed almost completely.

At some point during our conversation Lucy told me she was very surprised that "western people" used the word Otaku so lightly. She had spend three months in the US before coming to London and she said people there used to call themselves otaku just because they liked anime. She said she wasn't very found of anime but she knew enough about it to know what she was talking about, obviously I wouldn't argue with her about her own culture so I listened.
She told me that the word Otaku has a very negative meaning in Japan. It's basically someone who never leaves the house and doesn't do anything with their lives just so they can watch anime and play games.
At first I was confused... how could a word have such a negative meaning in Japan and in the rest of the world be a synonym for "anime fan" ?

She said calling someone an Otaku in Japan was offensive and although people in Japan are learning to give less importance to the term because of its popularity worldwide, Otaku was still a taboo. She explained to me that for Japanese people an Otaku is someone like this: View spoilerHide spoilerMan marries pillow | Metro.co.uk and that an anime fan is just an anime fan, no labels required.

After that I did some research and what I found was even worse than what she'd said. Urban dictionary describes an Otaku as:


[1] In America, the term is used to denote a zealous fan, usually of anime and/or manga. Due to its introduction to most people's vocabulary through its tongue-in-cheek use in Gainax's film, "otaku" tends to have a much less dire definition overseas.
When dealing with Japanese people, however, it may be best to keep in mind the modern Japanese image of an otaku -- Someone who only leaves their home to eat or shop, if at all, with an overwhelming and unhealthy obsession about something. It can as easily refer to a stalker or sociopath as it can to a harmless anime buff.
Best to avoid the word altogether if one is not sure of the context in which it will be received.


[5] A Japanese word describing a person beyond the realm of fandom but into mania that is improperly used by American fans.
In Japan the word "otaku" has become taboo because of Miyazaki Tsutomu who went on a toddler murdering spree in the 80's, video taping the young girls he had murdered from an obsession with lolicon (female pedophilic manga).
Americans use this term to call themselves "fanboys" or "fangirls" with almost no knowledge of the horrific roots behind the word.


Urban Dictionary


Please note that this article wasn't written with the intention of offending anyone.

Did you guys know about this colossal difference in the meaning of a word so common to most of us ?

  • 37.44%
    I know and it bothers me
  • 55.9%
    I know but I don't care
  • 6.67%
    I didn't know

195 votes

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View more // Comments (35)

11 year agoItikioItikio
It angers me how many have picked the "I know and I don't care" option.
02 years agoTrishlerTrishler
I knew it for a long time, and even if I'm not Japanese at all, I feel the same way as Misako/Lucy when someone call himself an otaku =_=
Otaku/Hikikomori = Bad bad bad
02 years agoToireToire
The very word sickens me
02 years ago (2 years ago)ImanovImanov
It's like yaoi, in Japan the name is not that pop, they use BL for most.

I wouldn't have any problem being called otaku out of Japan, it's a completely different situation, it's not a bad thing, same word in different places for sure can have different meanins this won't be the first nor the last one. But I still don't like to be called otaku here, because most otaku ( at least here ) are RETARD, IMBECILE, ABSOLUTE LOSERS like "I'M KAWAII, I CAN FLY IN THE SKY, I'L BE LIKE NARUTO/ICHIGO/USAGI/SAKURA/MIKU, AHAHAH NYAAA, LOOK MY NEW MANGA TEEE HEE", so it's nice to let peolple know you like it, but you're moderate. There are a LOT of extreme 'fans' here. Of course there are also the moderated crew, but 'others' tend to think all are the same, so it's sometimes better to be an 'anime fan' than a 'otaku' here, if you get what I say.

So, in my country, we don't have the word 'otaku' as a bad thing, but since most of our 'otaku' are retards, I prefer not to mix... I look arrogant, but seriously, try to understand me, they can be SO extreme. But still, they're not 'hikikomorish' or just centered in one hobby like japanese-( real meaning )otaku tend to be.
02 years agoTaralenTaralen Sinbad Hoarder
I voted that it bothers me because it makes Westerners look like idiots. Then again Westerners, especially Americans (whom everyone seems to copy the slang of anyway), take a bunch of offensive words into the wrong context.
Granted there's fairly old ones like cretin which used to be the word for someone with cretinism but later on became another word for a stupid person. Same with retard.
Also let's not forget nigger/nigga, gay, faggot, etc. It's stupid.

I never use the word Otaku because of this.
02 years agomintbunnymintbunny The Geeky Bunny
I'm fully aware of the word and it's meaning And I still use the word. I'm an otaku, I don't care. I have a job, a fiancé, a loving family, and I go outside quite often. So I feel I'm not the stereotypical otaku. Besides, if you're someone who hates those people that use it, I better never see you at Otakon (since it calls itself the convention of the otaku generation and is a play on words: otaku convention). It's cool to do the research and see where words come from, but in the end, don't waste your time (not your personally, anyone in general) caring what others call themselves.

What does it matter to anyone what people label themselves? When people try to insult me by calling me otaku or weeaboo, I say 'I know I am thanks' and move on. Honestly, I think Urban Dictionary exaggerates. Are there people that bad? Sure. But I think the sane outweighs the insane. You just hear about the insane ones more cause they make better headlines.
12 years agobrandymallorybrandymallory
Lots of words take up new meanings in different places. Some times, like with the case of Otaku, you take a demeaning term, and make it more kind of positive.

I think anime fans outside of Japan should know the Japanese meaning, so that they know why a Japanese person might be confused that they call themselves that. But I'm okay with them using it. I never use the word myself, as I don't consider myself the Japanese or outside Japan version...
02 years agoPawpeePawpee
people calling themselves hikikomori is worse. i doubt they are and regardless its a sad situation (not pathetic, like honestly unsettling) far from anything to brag about.
02 years agoShinigamiyokoShinigamiyoko
I personally won't call anyone else an otaku because I'm unsure of whether they embrace it in the Japanese sense or the American sense, but I'm not offended if someone uses it towards me thinking they're giving me a compliment. Since I'm not used to hearing 'otaku' as a derogatory term, I don't feel too strongly either way, honestly.
02 years agoAsouAsou
that is a very interesting aspect from a genuine japanese POV.

thank you.

As for me? I rarely watch anime. Never really give the word "otaku" a meaning too.

But I love them figures, and cute stuffs.

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