Japanese people who read manga and watch anime are ‘otakus’
In the States I have observed that the word otaku is used to label anyone who watches anime and reads manga from Japan. However, in the country of origin the word otaku has quite a different meaning.
Many times I have had conversations that go something like this:
“Hey, where do you come from?”
“I live in Japan”
“Oh, I absolutely LOVE _______ (name of obscure manga or anime I have never heard about)”
Don’t get me wrong, I like reading manga and watching anime, but just because I come from Japan does not mean I’ll have an automatic interest in manga/anime. However, it is true that a huge population of Japanese people do have an interest in it. In Japan reading manga is not restricted by age – seeing middle aged men in the train reading Shounen Jump (a popular weekly manga magazine) is common, and there is no social stigma.
What is important to understand, though, is that reading manga does not make you an otaku. The definition of an otaku is someone who is obsessed with something, and that something doesn’t have to be manga/anime. For example, a person obsessed with model trains is an otaku, a person fascinated with old military artefacts is an otaku… it just means someone who is extremely invested in their hobby.
Otaku has a slight negative connotation in Japanese culture because sometimes the otaku is so obsessed that they become a liability to society (by turning into a shut-in or only doing part time work because their lives revolve around their obsession). And being a liability goes against the grain of Japanese society.
Most Japanese people know some kind of martial arts
Many people I met during my years abroad have asked me “so, do you know how to do kung fu?”. I’m not surprised by this stereotype, considering that it is perpetuated by anime like Dragon Ball and Naruto. Specifically ninjitsu, kung fu (even though it’s not from Japan), or bushido (recognized as the art of the samurai) are very well known.
The answer, of course, is no. I have never taken a martial arts class in my life, and more importantly, I have never felt socially compelled to practice martial arts. Very few people in Japan do martial arts, unsurprisingly enough. An American equivalent would be baseball. It’s a national sport, liked by many, but just because you’re American doesn’t mean that you know how to play baseball.
Actually, debunking this stereotype is unnecessary, because usually people get it on their own after a few minutes of thought. I just wanted to show you this video:
Go here to read part 1 of my “Proving Japanese Stereotypes Wrong” series, and be sure to stay tuned for part 3 (out on Monday the 18th of November).