Tag Archives: otaku culture


What does “Please Notice Me, Senpai” Mean?

Few Japanese words dominate otaku lingo as the word senpai. Senpai, often mispelled as sempai, sometimes appears more as punctuation to speech than a proper honorific. It also has a distinctive submissive flavor. Senpai (せんぱい  or 先輩) is an honorific used to address someone who is superior to you in status. Honorifics are parts of speech used to denote relationship and social status relative to the speaker. English’s closest equivalents include Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Sir/Ma’am. Honorifics attach to the end of the person’s surname (kincaid-sensei). A few stand alone as you see in the famous otaku phrase:

Please notice me, senpai.

The phrase comes in a few variations such as “I hope senpai will notice me.” It refers to the speaker’s desire for a mentor or someone from a higher grade level to admire them or fall in love with them. I can’t point to a specific anime/manga and claim it started the phrase. Rather, the phrase encapsulates a common storyline in romantic anime/manga. In such stories, a character pines after someone in a higher grade (a senpai) who doesn’t show any signs of knowing who the character is or tries to ignore the character. This ranges from romance to seeking friendship.

For many teen otaku, the phrase captures their struggles with relationships and their social awkwardness. The stereotype of the socially backward recluse holds true for some members of the community–unless you count their online socialness. Many of these stereotypical otaku possess great online social abilities and run successful blogs. In any case, the “I hope senpai will notice me” phrase appeals to many who struggle and worry about their social lives.  Many of the struggles found in anime and manga, and the ubiquity of  the high school setting, mirror the same struggles of fans. The awkwardness of awakening sexuality. The struggle of growing into adult responsibilities. The struggle with learning the dos and don’ts of socialness.

Many introverts identify with the fading-into-the-background aspect of the phrase.I think back to my own high school years and see how my own struggles fall into the scope of the phrase. I wasn’t much of a socialite, but then I’m still not. Social ability differs from social proclivity. While I like to fade into the background (and can’t as a library manager), back in high school it was frustrating to be looked over in everything but my grades. My intelligence became my plea of “Please notice me, senpai.” Looking back, I cringe. I value my privacy and solitude now, but back then it often frustrated me that I couldn’t break out of my shell and be noticed. I didn’t have a particular senpai.  I succumbed to the extrovert bias that infects American society. In some ways, introverts in American society struggle. Social America-senpai ignores the need of introverts for recognition and respect for our different nature. “Notice me, senpai” well captures the struggle of many people.

Although honorifics are ancient, the phrase is recent. According to Google Trends, the first blip of searches for the phrase appears in August 2012.

As you can see, interest in the phrase spikes as the otaku community latches onto it. Phrases like this became part of a community’s defining language. Language within a subculture separates those who are in and truly get it from the wannabes. Jargon also expresses sentiments and common experiences efficiently. “Please notice me, senpai.” can be read as a painful plea or as a comedic meme or both, depending on circumstance. But for those not initiated in the otaku culture (I make no claims to being an initiate), the phrase appears alien.  The phrase makes fun of popular culture and lets mainstream culture-senpai notice otaku culture. Perhaps not in a positive way, but mainstream culture still notices.

The phrase also has a sexual component. In some cases, the person seeking to be noticed will flaunt themselves using the tired tropes of fan-service: “accidental” peeks being among the most common. While I doubt this happens often within otaku life, the Internet shows this as a part of the phrase. If you search for senpai you’ll see sexualized fan-service poses. This means people have made the connection between the honorific and sexuality. Within anime, a female character will sometimes use her looks as a means to be noticed, so the association is built into its popular foundation. This sexuality is neutral. You’ll see it in heterosexual and gay and lesbian contexts. Anyone of higher social status relative to you can be a senpai. Some stories play on the idea that a senpai has more experience (read:sexual experience) than the protagonist who is sexually innocent.

As for the honorific itself, senpai is half of a male social relationship. Kohai forms the other half. Strangely, Japanese women are not as aware of this social relationship as men are (Sugihara & Katsurada, 2002). The senpai-kohai relationship is a give and relationship. The senpai dominates the kohai who must follow his orders. The senpai’s opinions are absolute, and the senpai’s social standing improves as he gains more followers. As you can tell, the structure originated in feudal Japan, but to a certain degree this continues in the corporate world as well. As for the kohai, he benefits from his senpai’s mentorship, experience, and social standing. Kohai receive jobs, social positions, and emotional support from his senpai. These relationships form some of the most important and lasting relationships between Japanese men (Sugihara & Katsurada, 2000).

Anime glosses over this relationship because of its fixation on high school. Parts of the relationship remain in anime, however. Upper classmates are expected to mentor lower classmates, and lower classmates follow the orders of their senpai as if the orders came from a teacher. Sometimes the lower classmate, the kohei, benefit by associating with a certain popular senpai. Some of the popularity rubs off on them, so to speak. But anime likes to show the senpai-kohei relationship as mostly one-directional. The lower classes serve the upper. It makes for a convenient source for tension within a story as unfair senpai stir resentment that needs to be tamped down, lest social norms be violated.

“I hope senpai notices me” acts on many levels within otaku culture but has little to do with the origins of senpai in feudal Japanese society. Like with most online cultures, the word senpai develops its own set of meanings independent from its purpose as an honorific. While some may view this as a negative, it is how language works.

References

Sugihara, Y. & Katsurada, E. (2000). Gender-role Personality Traits in Japanese Culture. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 24. 309-318.

Sugihara, Y. & Katsurada, E. (2002). Gender Role Development in Japanese Culture: Diminishing Gender Role Differences in a Contemporary Society. Sex Roles. 47. 443-452.


Anime Undermines American Masculinity

attack on american manhoodAnime is a threat to American values. It injects foreign ideas into the veins of American culture, particularly American masculinity.

But then, American masculinity needs the medicine.

Let’s step back a moment and look at American values. The United States contains several core values: freedom of speech, rights of the individual, equality, achievement, social mobility, and competition (Doran, 2013).  American masculinity revolves around individualism, competition, achievement, and sexual prowess. The core value of masculinity is quantity. More achievement, material, power, sex, and masculinity itself. American men raised on the idea that maleness is something we accumulate through action. It is something to be saved, like money. Like money, maleness can be lost. Guys who don’t try to climb to corporate ladder are not as manly as those who do (Tuck, 2003). This idea of American masculinity reaches back to Greek and Roman culture. Semen became the symbol for this idea. It made man masculine in the ancient West. Today, we substitute achievement for semen, but the links between achievement and man milk can be seen in the writings of the second-century physician Aretaeus the Cappadocian (Tuck, 2013):

[I]t is the semen when possessed of vitality which makes us to be men, hot well braced in limbs, hairy, well boiced, spirited, strong to think and act.

It is thought semen could also distract a man.In There’s Something About Mary, Ted (Ben Stiller) is told to masturbate before his date with Mary (Cameron Diaz) so he doesn’t have “baby batter on the brain”. The movie shows the American focus on sex. The scene reflects how men can’t speak with women without thinking about sex unless he takes himself in hand first. Sexual prowess underpins American masculinity. You see it in the way products are marketed to men. They are all designed in one way or another to enhance male performance. Even car commercials equate their design and performance with this currency view of maleness. A male isn’t something you are. It is something you earn and buy. In my area, many people consider  stay-at-home fathers as strange and effeminate because they aren’t out earning bread like a man.

arnold-schwarzenegger-conan

Conan makes a good stand-in for American masculinity.

American masculinity contains only one side. Gay men, for example, are portrayed as feminine. As if femininity is somehow wrong. One of the worst insults a straight man can endure is being called gay. It essentially calls him a woman. While this is insulting to gay men and women, the insult ties back to the values of maleness: sexual prowess, achievement, authority. So-called real men must be on top, sexually and socially. That is one reason why many parts of American culture find homosexuality abhorrent: gay men aren’t acting like “men”. Likewise, stay-at-home fathers fail to act as “men”.

These ideas extend toward male anime fans. Male anime fans who enjoy romantic comedies trouble those who think with chest hair. After all, American anime fans live inside American culture. Yet, male anime fans have access to a different perspective. Anime offers a different view of masculinity as we shall see.

Anime’s Softer Side of Manhood

inuyasha-kagome-hugAmerican romantic comedies target women. Sex comedies try to appeal to men. These comedies, unlike romantic comedies targeting women, don’t focus on emotions and wishes (Newitz, 1995). Sex comedies fall in line with the American view of manhood. Anime, however, suggest American masculinity isn’t the only type of masculinity. Okay, yes, anime has many shows that play right into typical views of masculinity — the man dominating various girls. Anime romances represent a different type of heterosexual masculinity, one based on romantic feelings instead of sexual ability.  They also break the equation American romance has: sex = love, love = sex.  Newitz (1995) writes:

Anime offer to the post-sexual revolution generation stories which suggest that young men and women do not need to have sex in order to experience love.

Anime romances provide a way for American guys to enjoy a romance where the male character wants to fall in love rather than want to have sex. The passive nature of these male characters run against the masculine ideals of being a dominating, go-get-em leader. The male characters explore a tender side of manhood. They are free to experience love and emotions normally considered feminine. Look at Love, Chunibyo, and other Delusions

The story centers on the growing emotional connection between Yuta and Rikka. Over the course of the anime, Yuta backs Rikka away from sex and other physical shows of love on several occasions. He wants to develop a deep emotional bond with her. If the story was American, he would have taken her to the sack instead of telling her not to worry about such things. These types of romantic comedies move manhood away from what is between the legs and toward the nobility of love and empathy. These stories often have a character who represents typical masculinity, a character that gawks at the ladies and is otherwise focused on sex. These characters serve as a backdrop to show how much better a male focus on emotion can be.  They also fail to understand the main male’s focus on love. It speaks to how many men feel about society. Only a few express their disdain for the male focus on sex.

Waifu and Love

Waifuism came from needs of men to experience love outside of the sexual dimension. Condry (2012) quotes:

For people who have grown up with the “common sense” that love equals the 3-D World, it may be impossible to convey the point I’d like to make: 3-D love is like the Edo era’s shogunate government. Throughout that period, everyone thought that the shogunate would continue forever. It was almost impossible to imagine another kind of government, and floating in this vague understanding, all of a sudden, the black ships appeared…Now, the love revolution expanding in Japan is easiest to understand in terms of Meiji Restoration. For a long time, everyone expected the commonsense belief that “love = 3-D world” would continue, but it has begun to be destroyed by the appearance of the moe phenomena.

Waifuism comes from a dissatisfaction with the cultural norms of male love. A guy can’t have sex with his waifu. This allows him to experience love outside of social sexual expectations.

Sex is Fine, Just Not as a Core Value

ComicArt-gropeSex isn’t the issue with any of this. The focus of American culture on sex and accumulation as the defining characteristics of masculinity damages men. Anime’s message that it is okay to be a guy and want to experience romantic love undermines American culture. It shows how it is okay to be a heterosexual guy and not focus on getting between a girl’s legs.  In fact, many of these anime stories reveal how seeking emotional connections over physical is superior.

Some anime seek to reinforce traditionally dominate male roles. And anime still has problems with objectifying women. However,  anime is one of the few mediums that provide an alternative to American macho values. This doesn’t stop men from being the target of insults and bullying. Male anime fans that enjoy romantic comedies have the same problems as men who enjoy Hollywood romantic comedies.

American masculinity has come under threat by women and the increasing acceptance of homosexuality. These threats make those who hold these traditional values louder and more insistent. However, many men who grew up watching anime live in ways that reveal a softer, stronger side of being male. And these men are raising sons of their own. With time perhaps the one-sided view of manhood will fade.

The Focus on Community and Cooperation

goku_and_friendsAside from the focus on sexual prowess, anime also undermines the American ideas of individualism and competition. Many parents raise American men to compete. Competition and individualism are kissing cousins. When you view yourself as a self-made product, you will naturally feel drawn toward looking out for oneself first. The US teaches competition (and the greed that results from it) is good. We have the mistaken idea that competition makes people more productive and achieve more. Of course, we measure achievement in terms money and other possessions. Even in team situations, competition rather than cooperation takes focus. People jockey for position or to stand out from their peers, and companies reward such behavior.

American manhood focuses competition: having more money, having a bigger home, having a hotter wife, having more loyalty to a sports team. Then you have anime. Anime focuses on cooperation and community. Every great hero has a posse of friends who helps him achieve. While there is some competition, it isn’t the same as here in the US. Competition in anime centers on improvement for both people — the drive to get stronger. It doesn’t involve stomping on people as you climb. I wrote more about this idea in my Goku Versus Superman article. Anime undermines this aspect of American culture by showing how no one is truly self-made. Each person has a support system. Even if sometimes they are unaware of that support system. For example, public services like police, fire protection, roads, air quality, water quality, and other infrastructure form support systems so-called self-made business people don’t consider in their views. In a similar way, anime heroes have invisible and visible support systems. Anime heroes measure their manhood by how well they return value to those support systems.

Dragonball Z‘s Goku is a good representation of manhood. Goku can’t achieve any of his victories without the help of his friends. He is also a father who isn’t afraid to express his love for his son.

Anime provides a welcome alternative to traditional American masculinity. We internalize value systems without realizing it. Anime and other media allow us to see a different perspective, and that perspective can reveal the unhealthy aspects of our value systems. American men often live one-dimensional lives. We fail to get in touch with our “feminine side”. Even calling these male emotions feminine seeks to denigrate both. It is good not to focus on sex in a relationship. It is good to want to love someone and embrace those emotions. It is good to stand against competition and individualism. If enough men stand up for the other side of manhood, we may be able to achieve a better balance. If women refuse to associate with men who are driven by sex and competition, perhaps some of these men may discover the side they are missing.

Or maybe we should just require everyone to watch anime. That just might work too.

References

Condry, I (2012). Love Revolution. Recreating Japanese Men. University of California Press. 262-283.

Doran, C., & Romie Littrell (2013) Measuring Mainstream US Cultural Values. J Bus Ethics. 117. 261-280.

Newitz, A. (1995) Magical Girls and Atomic Bomb Sperm: Japanese Animation in America. Film Quarterly. 49 (1). 2-15.

Tuck, G. (2003). Mainstreaming the Money Shot: Reflections on the Representation of Ejaculation in Contemporary American Cinema. Paragraph, 26(1/2), 263.


Anime Blogging Tools

Blogging requires many different considerations. First, you have to keep track of what is going on in the communities you are a part of. You have to be careful of copyright issues. This is particularly problematic for images since it is very easy to just do a fast image search, right click, and snatch the image.  One top of that, it is good practice to cite your blog post’s sources. Citations are tedious and annoying, but they lend credibility to your writing.

Anyway, we are in luck! There are many tools floating around that help you with these problems. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Tracking Anime Articles

Nagaski c.1868

Nagaski c.1868 – Journals were the original blog.

How many anime blogs do you read? It is impossible to keep track of everything in the anime and manga blogspheres. There is just too much stuff! That, and let’s be honest, most of the articles floating around are poorly written and trite. The web is flooded with half-baked opinions. Including mine! The best source for ideas is reading what other people are writing about. So what is a blogger to do?

Enter two websites:  AnimeNano and AnimeShinbun.

Anime Nano

Anime Nano is an RSS based feed site. Anime bloggers submit their RSS feeds, and articles are automatically added to the post lists. Registration is free. An account lets you filter the incoming feeds to the blogs that interest you the most. I have Firefox display the main RSS feed from the website in a sidebar. This lets me constantly see what new topics and posts are trending.

Anime Nano isn’t moderated. However, I haven’t seen advertising spam yet. This also means writing quality varies widely.

AnimeShinbun

This is probably one of the best anime blogging feed sites around. The site is community moderated with strict posting rules.  That means members of the community vote to approve links you submit before they appear on the main feeds. This tends to weed out poor writing, duplicate posts, and other problems blog feeds have. AnimeShinbun has temperature ratings that show how popular a particular article is.

AnimeShinbun keeps you up to date with what the anime community finds interesting each day.  There is a preponderance of reviews, but that does reflect what most anime bloggers write. It also can help your blog get noticed. Just don’t spam your links. This will hurt your reputation.

Copyright Tools

Copyrights are thorny. Images are particularly problematic since most websites do not source their images. Yeah, JP is also bad about that.  As I already mentioned (and I will link the copyright article again in case you missed it), I wrote a general summary of US copyright law that bloggers should understand. However, there is another way to avoid copyright hassles: public domain images.

Flickr Commons

Most images on Flickr belong to their owner or are released under Creative Commons. It is best to just assume they below to the person who made the picture. However, Flickr has a commons area that hosts a wealth of public domain and copyright free images.  Institutions involved in the Commons project include the National Library of Medicine,  The British Library, and other organizations. There are some cool images to be found here.

However, some of these images may not actually be public domain. Read what Flickr has to say about this (see Source):

Photographs can be difficult to analyze under copyright law, not only because laws around the world differ with respect to scope and duration of protection, but because the photographs themselves often lack credit lines, dates and other identifying information. Libraries, museums and other cultural institutions have a great deal of experience with photographs because they frequently collect, preserve, document and study them in accordance with their nonprofit missions. However, in many instances, a cultural institution will not be the rights holder under copyright law. Therefore, it can neither grant permission to others who wish to use a photograph nor provide a guarantee that the photograph is in the public domain.

So in other words, it is still up to you to determine if the image is actually free of copyrights. However, this tool does increase the likelihood of the image being copyright free. Yep, the images I used in this article are all from the service or WikiMedia Commons.

WikiMedia Commons

This website provides public domain and freely licensed educational media. Use of the images varies based on the original author’s criteria. As WikiMedia states:

Everyone is allowed to copy, use and modify any files here freely as long as they follow the terms specified by the author; this often means crediting the source and author(s) appropriately and releasing copies/improvements under the same freedom to others.

Like Flickr Commons, images posted on WikiMedia Commons may actually have copyrights.  WikiMedia Commons also has audio, videos, and other goodies that are useful for bloggers.

New York Public Library Digital Collection

The New York Public Library has a vast collection of images and public domain images. It has a nice collection of Japanese postcards from the late 1800s and woodblock prints from the Edo period.

Citation Machine

It is a good idea to cite your sources. As I mentioned, citations make your writing more professional and lends it more authority.  Citations are a headache though. They are tedious. Luckily, this being the web rather than an academic paper, few people will call you out on a citation if you forget a period. That said, it is a good habit to get it as close to being a proper citation as you can get.

Citation Machine offers some help. The web tool lets you set up citations in APA, MLA, Chicago and Turabian. Select the citation you want and then you can search WorldCat for the book you want to cite. The tool also lets you select magazines and other types of information.  Fill out the form with the article or book’s information and you are golden! The help links will tell you what each field expects and where to find the information. It is pretty sweet.

Writing Tools

Teaching Songs by Kusakabe Kimbei c. 1890

Teaching Songs by Kusakabe Kimbei c. 1890

Sometimes our brains fly ahead of our fingers.  Blog posts sometimes look like a book going through a blender. Nothing beats good old fashioned hand editing and proofreading, but sometimes we need a little help. English grammar is a jungle of rules and contradictions. To use the Oxford comma or not to use the Oxford comma? That is the question.

What is an Oxford comma anyway? (It is the comma used in a series of words that need a conjunction:  apples, oranges, and neko! The red comma is the Oxford comma.)

Well, the Web comes to the rescue. Well, not to the rescue, but it does offer some help. Automated tools, as any user of Microsoft Word knows,  are not perfect.

PaperRater

PaperRater offers a free grammar and spell check tool that also offers word suggestions. The tool makes suggestions within your text, and also rates your use of vocabulary. Like all automatic rating software, you shouldn’t put too much weight to this evaluation. PaperRater is designed for, well, papers. It lets you select your target education level and the type of paper. It also can check your citations. It is a pretty nifty tool. If you have doubts on your grammar and proofreading skills, this tool may help. There is a paid version that gets rid of the website’s advertising and lets you submit longer papers. It isn’t necessary for bloggers like us.

Hemingway App

Hemingway App is a nifty application that checks your writing’s readability. It looks for sentence complexity and the use of passive voice. Passive voice, for those of you who are rusty on grammar, is a static sentence structure. It states that sometime is rather than show that something acting. Words like is, had, have, and -ing verbs are passive.

There is a paid desktop version of the app. The free version has some limitations, but it is still helpful in pointing out your bad habits. The application gives you a readability score.  The app highlights difficult sentences, adverbs, and passive voice using a color key.

The application, in case you are wondering, is named after Ernest Hemingway. The American author is known for his short sentences and clear writing style. Clarity is important in blogging. JP sometimes gets muddled. This is especially true when we lapse into academic speak.

So there you have it! A collection of tools that should be useful for your blog writing. Heck, many of these tools are useful for essay writing. It is important for all of us to take the time to improve the quality of the Web. The web is full of trash writing, spam, and nonsense. Clean up starts with each of us.  Writing clearly, intelligently, and with good, researched information improves the quality of the Web.  At the least, your blog will be an oasis for web surfers riding the flood of junk information.


The Otaku Versus the Sportaku

Society thinks anime fans are uncool. Yet, that same society accepts the sportaku. A sportaku is better known as a sports fan. You know, the people who fill their houses with  jerseys, blankets, and everything else stamped with their favorite team’s logo. Really is a sportaku any different from an otaku?

Fan of the Angolan team at the 2008 African Cup of Nations.. by Jake Brown

Fan of the Angolan team at the 2008 African Cup of Nations.. by Jake Brown

Nope.  In fact, sportaku can be even more extreme.

Okay, we know otaku enjoy anime to the point of having their own lingo and enjoy collecting figures, DVDs, manga, and other anime merchandise. Anime is a part of an otaku’s identity. It shapes how she views the world. Anime is a channel for meeting people and being a part of the anime community lends a sense of belonging.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds awfully similar to being a sports fan. But I am going to take some time to build an argument to point out how silly it is for sportaku to be accepted while otaku are not.

Defining Otaku

The words geek and otaku often intermix. Geek is an American term that mostly refers to males who spend a lot of time with computers and video games. They are stereotyped as pale, disheveled, neck-bearded, and poorly dressed. They have few friends. Otaku in Japanese parlance share the same traits only they are obsessed with the information computers and media provide rather than the computers themselves. Otaku links with obsession, and many types exist: train-otaku, pop-idol-otaku and others. However, in Western use,  otaku refers specifically to extreme anime fans. (Tobin, 2001). Weeaboo also substitutes for otaku.

While otaku is a negative word in Japan, in the West it has become a label embraced by anime fans. It still carries some stigma and negativity, just like the word geek. However, both geekdom and otakuism has become more acceptable and mainstream in recent years with comedies like Big Bang Theory and the prevalence of the cultures online.

Otaku culture involves community events like conventions, blogging, and other social outlets. It has become a common part of America’s public libraries. Most libraries have manga and anime now.

Many otaku collect manga, anime, figurines, and other memorabilia. They spend time writing about anime and drawing their favorite characters. Self-expression remains a part of the culture. Some write fan-fiction and draw their own comics.

Defining Sportaku

Now let’s take a look at a sportaku. The formal, academic definition of a sports fan is “an enthusiastic devotee of some particular sport consumptive object” (Yoshida, 2015). It’s a stuffy definition, but hang in there while I illustrate it. Let me throw out a few other definitions before we get started. They are important to understand what exactly a sport fan is and how he ultimately compares to an otaku.

Fan identification – “the degree to which the fan’s relationship with the team contributes to their social identity” (Peden, 2015).

Fan engagement – “escalating behavioral involvement that includes socially committed behaviors such as self expression, story-telling, and community participation.” (Yoshida, 2015).

Basically, a sportaku is a fan that is so into a sport or team that it becomes a part of who they are and how they act. A team victory feels like a personal victory. A fan also feels a strong sense of comradery with other fans of their team. How many times have you seen complete strangers high-five, hug, and celebrate together when their team wins? I am not a sports person, but I’ve seen it happen frequently. The shared engagement and identity transcends normal boundaries between strangers. They share feelings of elation, enthusiasm, and other emotions. This shared connection and collective feeding of emotion feeds the hooliganism we see when a sports team wins. The elements that define a fan also create victory riots.

Speaking of motivating factors, researchers created models that help explain sportakus. People watch sports for various reasons and to differing degrees. Spectators are people who follow a team casually and are not affected by a team’s victory or loss (Peden, 2015).  People are rated based on their engagement and identification levels up to the ranks of the dysfunctional fan and fanatic (Yoshida, 2015; Sveinson, 2015). A sportaku is someone who lives in these extreme levels.

Sports, like anime, motivates people based on how much they identify with it. Fanatics have different motivating factors –self-esteem, group affiliation, knowledge, and social interaction–than spectators–entertainment, social interaction, and stress reduction (Sveinson, 2015).  Like anime fandom, emotion underpins sports fandom. In fact, the effect of sports on people is as strong as religion (Cottingham, 2012).

Illustrating Sportakuism

It is common to see sport fans wearing hats, sweaters, jerseys, and other symbols of their team loyalty.  Sport fans rank themselves based on their dedication and knowledge about their teams. Fans can be authentic or inauthentic, and women are often seen as less authentic than men (Sveinson, 2015). Wearing team logos is an outward sign of being a part of the “in” crowd. Identity is defined by what a person is not more than who a person is. I am a Steelers fan.  I am a Browns fan or a Yankee fan. Those statements exclude other teams. It creates boundaries, and those boundaries define identity.

Sportaku wrap their identity with these boundaries. Fandom becomes so much a part of an extreme fan’s life that it blends with family, religion, education, and other ways that become inseparable from the person (Cottingham. 2012).  Let me use Cottingham’s illustration to drive home the point:

Steelers solidarity is illustrated in the story of a woman who, at the final request of her late husband, brought his ashes to a Steelers game at Heinz Field. Her husband never attended a game in his lifetime and was, therefore, unable to experience peak moments of interaction rituals, but he had been a devoted fan even from his home in New England. His sons dressed in Steelers jerseys for his funeral and his body was covered with a Steelers blanket.

Okay, let me throw one final definition at you before we compare the sportaku to the otaku.

Sportaku (noun) – a person for whom a sport or sports team is an integral part of their identity, defining their social life, self-esteem, and self expression.

The Sportaku Versus the Otaku

Phew, with that muddle out of the way, let’s get to comparing the otaku to the sportaku. We will also look at how silly it is for society to favor the sportaku over the otaku.

haiyore_nyaruko_san-01-nyarlko-anime-otaku-comedy-excitedThe otaku is an extreme fan of anime, one that derives their sense of identity from being a part of the anime community. Like sport fans, the otaku consumes products related to their interests. Both wjll spend a lot of money on memorabilia. Where sportaku will meet in bars, anime fans will meet in conventions. Both like to gather around the TV. Anime lends the same emotional motivators as sports: social interaction, entertainment, group affiliation, self-esteem, and knowledge. Also like sport fans, anime fans organize themselves based on their level of knowledge and loyalty. Otaku have particular series, characters, and authors they identify with. Just as sport fans have particular teams or type of sport.

The importance of the sport or anime to a fan’s identity defines the otaku and sportaku. The team, the waifu, becomes as much a part of a person as they eye-color. Anime and sports can consume the majority of the fan’s free time. Anything you spend a lot of time consuming will shape your perspective. The messages of competition, sportsmanship, violence, loyalty, misogyny, and other positive/negative ideas naturally become a part of your world view.  Anime as a storytelling medium conveys messages more directly than sports, but sports do the same within their cultures.

When it comes to women, it’s a mixed bag. Sportaku and otaku tend to have sexist tendencies within their cultures. Both remain boys’ clubs in many ways, but this is changing. Female athletes become stars. Anime in the West features more strong female protagonists. Neither sports nor anime are inherently sexist, but they have their moments.

Sportaku–not all–will sometimes trash a city block as they celebrate. Otaku–again, not all–will start flame wars about a particular anime. Sportakuism can form cult-of-personalities around certain players. Otaku do the same around some characters and Japanese pop idols.

Considering all of this, why is it that society favors sportakuism? Well, sport franchises have far more money and power than anime studios. Mostly, it is because of cultural concerns. American culture embraces sports as a representation of American values: personal achievement and competition. Sports touch on feelings of nationalism and belonging. Anime doesn’t. Think of the World Cup. Teams represent their home countries and compete to show who is the best. Victories and losses feel like personal victories and losses. Sports offer a story that resonates and is easily understood. Anime stories can be a muddle. Anime is also a cultural import while most popular sports (American football and baseball) are domestic creations. Anime also suffers from its association with cartoons. Cartoons are seen as the realm of children. Basically, anime won’t ever gain the widespread acceptance sports enjoy.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

Like sport fandom, anime fandom has degrees of dedication.  Sport fandom lasts through most of life and into death. Many anime fans age out of the fandom. Why? Because over time anime stops fulfilling the emotional and social needs it once did.

Sportakuism and otakuism are identical. Whenever a sportaku makes fun of you for your interest in anime, keep this in mind. You share more in common than the sportaku will believe.

References

Cottingham, M. (2012) Interaction Ritual Theory and Sport Fans: Emotion, Symbols, and Solidarity. Sociology of Sport Journal, 29 168-185.

Peden, C., Paula Upright, et al. (2015) Fan Identification in Sports: Assessing Fan Motives for Supporting a Sports Organization. KAHPERD Journal. 52 (2). 37-41.

Sveinson, K. & Hoeber, L. (2015) Overlooking the obvious: an exploration of what it means to be a sport fan from a female perspective, Leisure Studies, 34:4, 405-419, DOI: 10.1080/02614367.2014.923496.

Tobin, J.. (2001). Save the Geeks. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(6), 504–508.

Yoshida, M., et al. (2015) Fan Community Identification: An Empirical Examination of its Outcomes in Japanese Professional Sport. Sport Marketing Quarterly. 24. 105-119.


Am I a Weeaboo? What does Weeaboo Mean Anyway?

My goal for JP is to cut through some of the mistaken ideas anime and manga fans have about Japan. As I dug around the net and academic databases researching for this article, I wondered if I really do meet my goal. Or, perhaps, I only add to the preponderances of misinformation and mistaken ideas people hold toward Japanese culture.  Andrew made a joke about me turning Japanese. After all, I enjoy tea, and I study Japanese language. The comment made me wonder: am I a weeaboo?

What does Weeaboo Mean?

desu-memeThe word weeaboo, like much of the slang floating around on the Net, originated in 4chan forum discussions. Weeaboo originated as a replace word in 4chan’s word filter system. The word replaced waponese. Waponese is a variable contraction of “wannabe” Japanese and “white” Japanese. Waponese dates to the early 2000’s. Know Your Meme (2012) claims 2002. Google Trends (n.d.) shows the word becoming in vogue around 2005. In either case, wapanese gained its definition in 4chan discussions. The word had negative connotations. After all, it started as a racial slur (Know Your Meme, 2012). 4chan moderators substituted the word weeaboo, a word from Perry Bible Fellowship comic strip by Nicholas Gurewitch (Known Your Meme, 2012, Gurewitch n.d.). Weeaboo quickly replaced waponese to negatively refer to people who had an extreme interest in anime and manga. Another word that comes to mind is Japanophile.

Urban Dictionary (2005 – 2015) goes into further detail.  The meaning of weeaboo can be reduced to a few characteristics:

  1.  Obsession with Japanese culture to the point that the person views Japanese culture as superior to their own (and all other cultures).
  2. Obsession with anime, manga, and other Japanese pop culture exports.
  3.  Interject Japanese words into their everyday speech. The words are often used incorrectly.
  4. Much of the person’s knowledge of Japan and the language is based on pop culture exports (anime and manga).

After studying conversations on 4chan, Jennifer McGee (2012) defines as weeaboo as simply a Westerner who is an overly-enthusiastic fan of Japanese culture. The fandom extends to the point where the person breaks social boundaries. McGee argues this breaking of boundaries (such as incessant and poor use of Japanese terms gleaned from anime) is what makes anime and manga fans label others as weeaboo. The word is used almost exclusively by anime fans against other fans (McGee, 2012). It is a term used to differentiate “normal” fans from the more obsessive breed. McGee also states the word hambeast is used to disparage overweight weeaboo or fans who are otherwise “overweight” in their loudness. In Western societies, obesity is considered with disgusted because it is a visual symbol of a person’s lack of control and violation of other people’s boundaries.

My Experiences with Weeaboos

I’ve spent some time around people who proudly proclaim themselves otaku and weeaboo. One of the best ways to combat a negative label is to take that label and make it your own.  Many urban blacks did this with the n-word, for example. Anyway, I am getting a little off topic. I found the behavior of my local weeaboos off-putting. It made me wonder what it was about anime and manga that attracted such obsessive and loud behavior. The loud antics and violations of personal space  troubled me.  The ignorance about Japanese culture, in particular, unsettled me. How can someone who claims to be obsessed about a culture know so little? Basing your knowledge on Japan from anime and manga is like basing knowledge of America from Hollywood movies. Certainly, some parts of the culture will be present. After all, anime is a product of Japan, but most aspects of the culture will be diluted.

However, anime would not exist as we know if America’s influence didn’t affect Japanese culture. So in many regards, anime is a mix of American culture and post-WWII Japanese culture more than it is a reflection of the entirety of Japanese culture. Who inspired early Japanese manga artists? Walt Disney. So at the start, basing your knowledge of Japan on an international cultural product is a mistake.

When I saw this problem, I decided to work to remedy the problem by writing educational, researched articles about real Japanese culture in addition to Japan’s pop culture. But now I wonder if perhaps I have turned into a Japanophile or a weeaboo.

Am I a weeaboo?

I write as if a weeaboo is a negative characteristic. Based on the Urban Dictionary and Mcgee’s definition, it is. A weeaboo is someone who is obsessive, disruptive, and simply mistaken.  People who identify themselves as weeaboo will certainly disagree with that sentiment. However, the most common use of the word does have negative connotations. It is not right to pass such judgments. Particularly, it is wrong from a Christian perspective. But, the Net being the Net, people are fast to pull other people down and label people as an “other.” The meanings of words are based on consensus. The word bitch no longer means “female dog” because of usage consensus. Therefore, weeaboo retains its negative tone.

Well, enough of that. Let’s get moving to the question. Am I a weeaboo? I will answer each of the characteristics of the definition. You might want to do the same as you read. How do you measure up against the definition. Are you a weeaboo?

Obsession with Japanese culture to the point that the person views Japanese culture as superior to their own (and all other cultures).

Am I obsessed with Japanese culture? Is that all I talk, think, and read about? Well, I just finished reading a book about the history of Western libraries. I have a book about geisha on hold on my local library, but I also itch to read a new David Brooks book. I only watch perhaps 2-4 hours of anime at most each week.  I watch more Mystery Science Theater 3000 than that each week. Japanese culture is a culture like any other. I am more fascinated with the Roman Empire and Renaissance than Japan. Japanese culture is no more superior to those cultures. It has some things America could learn from, and many problems we are lucky not to have (like karoshi and high suicide rates).

So no. I am not obsessed with Japanese culture. It is one part of my broad base of interests.

Obsession with anime, manga, and other Japanese pop culture exports.

Does Nintendo count? I love playing Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games. I don’t read manga. I will read perhaps 4 issues at most for article research each year. As I mentioned, I will watch 2-4 hours of anime each week. Some weeks I will watch more if I am need to marathon a series for JP. Anime figurines? Nope. Never tried Pocky either.

So nope here too.

Interject Japanese words into their everyday speech. The words are often used incorrectly.

Okay, this one has me. I will sometimes practice newly learned phrases or say arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます). I will also use words like baka (ばか) when joking with other anime fans. I also often speak in Spanish to people or to myself such as donde esta? I lapse into Spanish more often Japanese. Pero habló español por más tiempo.

So this one is a yes–kinda.  I work on teaching myself Japanese using college textbooks. I do not use anime at all. My goal is to be able to read Japanese folktales and write intelligent academic articles about them. So does that count in my favor or against me?

Much of the person’s knowledge of Japan and the language is based on pop culture exports (anime and manga).

This is a flat no. Most of my knowledge of Japanese culture comes from academic journals and history books. I’ve read about Japan, Rome, and other cultures far longer than I’ve watched anime. I’ve read about these cultures since I was six. I didn’t discover anime  until I was 19.

How did you answer the characteristics? The question of language stands out to me more than the others. The American government characterizes “Limited Working Proficiency” in Japanese at 1,410 hours of study. It will take me and any other university student about 9.4 years to hit that mark (Rubin, 2012). Learning Japanese from anime is highly unlikely. The use of the language is more for a identification than actual desire to learn and use the language. Granted, with that amount of time I will study will likely fizzle out long before I reach limited proficiency. There is only so much time to use.  Mostly, I want to learn the language because it is an intellectual challenge.

Okay, so it looks like I am not a weeaboo. Although, I would still probably be called a Japanophile because of my interest in the culture and American otaku culture. I wrote several papers in grad school  on how comics and manga affects reader development. So, I do have an academic interest in all of it. I guess I will have to just get used to being labeled as a Japanophile.

By now, more than a few of you are likely raging at me.
“Being a weeaboo isn’t a bad thing! I am a proud weeaboo!” There is a difference between being an anime fan (and perhaps even an American otaku) and being a weeaboo. Being a weeaboo is about disregarding the boundaries and sensibilities of other people. It shows a lack of respect for the Japanese people and their culture. Their culture is far more than anime.

The problem with the Net is how it acts as an echo chamber. Opinions bounce back to us so often that we lose sight of fact and truth.  It is good to enjoy anime and manga. Japanese culture is fascinating. However, it is not good to let the echo chamber of the Net cloud your thinking. Japanese culture is not superior to American culture, nor is American culture superior to other cultures. They are simply different. Anime and manga are  good storytelling media, but they are not the only good ones. Interjecting other languages when speaking to people doesn’t make people think better of you (ehem, something I need to stop doing). Rather, it makes you come off as pretentious. Finally, it is not good to base your knowledge of a country’s culture only on its movies, comics, animations, and other pop culture exports. The best way to expand knowledge of another culture is to read about it and speak to people who live within that culture.  Superficial knowledge is only a starting place.

References

Gurewitch, N (n.d.)  Comic #62. http://www.pbfcomics.com/71/

Know your Meme (2012). Weeaboo. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/subcultures/weeaboo

McGee, J (2012). Discipline and Post: Foucault and “Weeaboo Horror Stories” on the Internet. Aichi Shukutoku University Journal: Global Culture of Communication Studies. http://aska-r.aasa.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/10638/5218/1/0033-004-201203-049-061.pdf

Urban Dictionary (2005-2015). Weeaboo. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Weeaboo.


What are Maid Cafes?

“Gokitaku hajimete desu ka?”

She wears white stockings and lace, a fantasy in the flesh. You nod and say something vaguely affirmative.

The server bows. Her petticoat and frilly pinafore are immaculate. You see just a hint of her garter. The other servers stop what they are doing and bow toward you.

“Okaerinasai-mase goshujin-sama!”

You have just entered a maid cafe.

Maid cafes are an example of a new type of business, called “affective economics.” Affective economics centers on inviting a customer into a brand community. This allows customers to become emotionally engaged with a brand or product and feel protective of that brand (Jenkins, 2006). Think about one of your favorite fictional characters and how emotionally attached you feel toward that character and story. That is affective economics at work.

Are you a sports fan? Does that loyalty drive you to buy stuff with the team logo? Does that loyalty make you want to watch every game? That is affective economics. It is rooted in a deep emotional attachment toward a brand that is supported by social networks. In other words, you like the stuff because people around you think it’s cool too.

Affective economics often involves payment for social ties. For example, you need to have a certain level of memorabilia to be considered a true fan in some social circles, someone who’s “in.” NFL fan communities and some anime fan communities share this.  Maid cafes are all about this.

Maid cafes are built upon customer’s affective attachments toward the fictional characters the servers create. While the cafes sell food, photographs, and other products, customers mainly pay for the ability to interact with the maids. After all, that is why you are there right?  This business model appeared in Akihabara in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the rise of otaku culture. The cafes simulated dating, uh, simulation games (they are a simulation of a simulation
). Each maid creates a fictional character she performs when interacting with customers. Customers also develop their own role playing identities (Hochiman, 2008; Galbraith, 2013).

maid_cafeCustomers pay 500¥ cover charges and a variable amount for a required drink in order to have one hour of interaction with the maids. There also also several rules that are unbreakable (Galbraith, 2013; Mounteer, 2014):

  1. You cannot ask for a maids real name or personal information.
  2. No physical contact is permitted.
  3. No personal cameras.
  4. No sexual advances.
  5. You must order one drink.

Food offered a maid cafes are expensive. You don’t go to cafes to eat. You go to talk with the maids. Maids provide various services that center on the master-servant relationship maid cafes build.  One common service is drawing a cute word or image on an order in ketchup. The maid will then ask the master, when she presents his order, to join her in an incantation to make the food taste better. The chants vary, but sources say the most common is “moe moe kyun.” Kyun is the Japanese onomatopoeia for a heart beat. Both maid and master make a heart shape with their hands over their hearts and moves their hands toward the food as if shooting a beam of heart energy. The idea is to infuse the food with love. It all contributes to the fantasy (D’Anastasio, 2013; Galbraith, 2013; Mounteer, 2014).

maid-cafe-cebu-cityMaid cafes also offer entertainment such as photographs (hence the rule about no personal cameras), table top games, card games, and other activities with the maid.  Not those type of activities! Look at those rules again. No physical contact!

Each interaction costs extra. Cheki (or instant photographs of the customer with a maid (not touching, of course) are common at 500¥ each (Galbraith, 2013).

Maid Cafe Customers

Maid cafes rely on regulars (joren じょれん) to keep the cafe going. Otaku of various flavors compose these regulars. The customers develop relationships with the maids. Well, they develop relationships with the maid’s fictional character rather than the maid herself. Maid cafes are considered 2.5 dimensional spaces (Gailbraith, 2013).  They are places where socially awkward, withdrawn, or uninterested people can interact with a fictional character who is physically real. Waifuism deals with people marrying a 2D fictional character. Then you have the typical real world relationships of the 3D world. Maid cafes and similar venues sit between these two worlds. The maids are 3D, but they are fictional at the same time. This allows a person to interact with a fiction that is more palatable than the complex and stressful 3D world.

Maid cafe servers act cute and servile. She exists to please her master. She also adopts a completely different way of speaking and tone of voice in order to appear subservient and cute (Kawahara, n.d.). It is her job to create memorable, comforting, and fun experiences for customers. However, customers cannot be lewd or sexual in any way. Erections, lewd behavior, and other sexual or degrading behavior can cause the customer to be banned permanently from the cafe. Masters are expected to be masters of themselves (Galbraith, 2013).

Regulars only have one hour intervals like everyone else. Many will leave to only line up again. Japanese society often considers maid cafe regulars and other otaku as unmanly because they avoid fulfilling expected social roles and responsibilities, including having relationships with women (Galbraith, 2013).  Men do not go to maid cafes in order to feel like a man. Rather, they go to relate with fictional characters in a cute, safe environment.

Maid Cafe Maids

Servers cannot help but develop some personal relationship with regular customers. After all, a server is still herself under the character. Regulars will celebrate their birthdays and other special events at the cafe. Many regulars visit for years. In such cases, it is impossible not to build some sort of relationship. After all, relations is the main product of a maid cafe.  However, for her own safety she cannot give out personal or contact information (Galbraith, 2013; Levenstein, n.d.).  Some customers will struggle to draw a line between fiction and reality.

Maid characters are inspired by manga and anime, but these characters are not specific renditions of popular characters. Rather, they are developed by the maid themselves (Galbraith, 2013). This gives the women a means of self-expression.

Maids are paid about  850 yen an hour at the time of Galbraith’s study (2013). This is close to Japan’s national minimum wage. Women are drawn to the work because of their interests and not the money.

Upon graduation, when she quits or is fired, a maid has a special event that includes a small circle of regular customers. Graduation marks the last time she will be seen in costume and character. Customers buy tickets to take part in the event, which varies by maid (Galbraith, 2013). The event is often emotional. It is a turning point and marks the end of the relationship between the maid’s character and customers. Basically, the event marks the death of that maid’s character.

Considering Sexism

At first glance, maid cafes look to be quite sexist. Men are masters (although women are considered mistresses and see the same attention as men) and the maids are servants. Maids act to attract men and meet their needs. That interaction is what the cafes sell. However, this does not necessarily mean there is sexism in the fantasy that is being sold.

First, most maid cafes have strict rules that seek to avoid sexual advances, lewd behavior, and other problems. Although, this suggests such behavior was a problem in the past.  The outfits seem tailored for men’s fantasies. However, the maid outfits in most maid cafes are closely related to Lolita fashion. Lolita came out of a backlash against women feeling forced to dress in ways men favored. Female sexuality was expected to be accessible and match the taste of men. Lolita takes these expectations and embraces femininity to the extreme: lace and bows and other things considered feminine. Maid dress in the same way.  Lolitas dress the way they do because they enjoy it. It is not done to please men (Steward, 2008). While maid costumes are designed to please the mostly male clientele of the cafes, the outfits are less demeaning than those of American establishments like Hooters. The outfits embrace and express femininity with lace, ruffles, and bows in ways similar to that of Lolita fashion.

Many customers are interested in playing around the boundary of fiction and reality. They go to maid cafes in order to relate to a character and enjoy an hour of escapism. Not all customers visit these cafes in order to feel like a master. There are other outlets for such needs, after all.

Links with History

Maid cafes are related to the famous Japanese tea houses and their geisha. Both the cafes and tea houses sell fantasy and relationships. Geisha and maids both converse with customers and provide a social link a customer may not have otherwise. Granted, maid cafes turned these interactions into commodities more than tea houses. Both geisha and maids are paid to provide social interaction, conversation, and other social needs. Affective economics focuses on how social and emotional ties are developed between people and products. Both geisha and maids sell a branded version of themselves that packages their time and interactions into a product. This seems a bit crass, but social realities are changing.  Some people are attracted to fictional contexts, to use a technical term. In other words, people are drawn to fiction more than social reality. This context is related to, but different from reality. That is the attraction of both the Japanese tea house and the maid cafe.

References

D’Anastasio, C. (2013). Parfaits not perverts: inside NYC’s first ‘maid cafe’. Gothamist. http://gothamist.com/2013/11/11/she_just_took_my_empty.php

Galbraith,P. (2013): Maid cafés: The affect of fictional characters in Akihabara, Japan, Asian Anthropology, DOI: 10.1080/1683478X.2013.854882.

Hochiman, D. (2008) Service with a wink to a Japanase Fad. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/25/dining/25maid.html?_r=2&

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Kawahara, S. (n.d.) The phonetics of Japaense maid voice I: a preliminary study. Rutgers University. http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~phonetic/pdf/Kawahara-Onin16.pdf

Levenstein, S. (n.d.) Maid cafe code of conduct chastises creepy clients. http://inventorspot.com/articles/maid_cafe_code_conduct_chastises_creepy_clients_18430

Mounteer, J (2014). What it’s like inside a Japanese maid cafe. Matador Network. http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/like-inside-japanese-maid-cafe/

Steward, D (2008). In her Own Words. Jezebel. http://jezebel.com/5056920/in-her-own-words