The International Otaku Expo Association (IOEA) could be the title of one of those self-referential, po-mo anime shows that is as much about fandom as it is made for fans (think “Genshiken,” an entire series about a college otaku fan club). But it’s the real thing, headquartered in Tokyo’s Yushima neighborhood and founded by three self-proclaimed otaku a little over two years ago — and now it’s getting props from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), which is helping the IOEA spread the otaku gospel worldwide.

And what is that gospel, exactly? The word “otaku,” like so many Japanese terms, has different meanings depending on where you utter it. Here in its land of origin, “otaku” still exudes whiffs of antisocial, or at least asocial, behavior, a connotation dating back to the 1980s: pathologically obsessive fans of fantasy worlds who evade social interaction to hide personal defects.

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