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?
The 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:
- Obsession with Japanese culture to the point that the person views Japanese culture as superior to their own (and all other cultures).
- Obsession with anime, manga, and other Japanese pop culture exports.
- Interject Japanese words into their everyday speech. The words are often used incorrectly.
- 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.
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.