Rei Densetsu and his sister Cloud are champion itasha (decorated car) drivers. At the 2010 Fuji Speedway itasha event, where Japan’s best-decorated cars are judged on their designs, Cloud won the Impact Prize and Rei received the Special Award for their outrageously decked-out vehicles. The term “itasha” is derived from “itai kuruma,” literally meaning “painful cars.” Such cars are covered with large colorful stickers of moe (ineffably cute) characters from manga, anime and games. Rei’s mini-truck is an ode to his beloved Rei Ayanami, a character from the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga and anime series. He even took the character’s name as his driver moniker and placed a life-size doll of her in the passenger seat. His sister is a huge fan of the role-playing video game Final Fantasy, hence her moniker Cloud Strife, one of the game’s main protagonists. Her mini-car is covered from bumper to fender with stickers of Asuka Langley Soryu, another character from the Neon Genesis Evangelion story.

Rei: Stopping at a red light could bring about a great love affair. Three years ago, when we were in Akihabara waiting at a red light, we saw an itasha. We fell in love! I began decorating my mini-truck almost immediately. Before that, I was not into anime. I only began reading manga and watching anime after I saw an itasha.

Cloud: Otaku can be of any age; from kids to adults in their 60s or even older. Anyone with a deep passion for a hobby is an otaku. What we love, we love very much! Whether they are two-dimensional characters in a manga or anime or cute real dogs, we adore them and take photos of them. We make cards using pictures of them and give them to our friends. We share the fun, and the love, this way. We have 10 dogs, so we have a lot of models!

R: Anime is such an incredible art form that has so many genres, anybody can fall in love with it. Our parents love anime, too. Their favorite shows are different from ours but their love and passion for the characters is the same.

C: “Moe” refers to sexiness and cuteness; once you understand it, there’s no way to live without it. The girls have huge eyes, big breasts and short skirts, and the guys are tall, muscled and gorgeous. It’s all exaggerated, so it becomes more fun, much more fantasy-like and more exciting. And, of course, more kawaii too!

R: Some mother and daughter-in-law relationships are perfect. I used to drive my mom around in my itasha. My yome (wife — in this case, a life-size Rei Ayanami doll) would be in the front seat and my mom in the back. They like each other. But now that car is full of Rei dolls, so mom can’t fit in it anymore. I drive her around in my other car.

C: When you love someone, you always want to be with them. I bring a baby size version of my danna (husband — Cloud Strife) to itasha events. I can’t be without him!

R: Otaku can’t explain what makes us otaku, but we know we are. We love cute moe characters.

C: Being an adult isn’t fun, but being an otaku definitely is! We both work and we’re both independent. My brother Rei runs his own company doing electrical work and I’m in sales, so during most hours of the day we’re grown-ups. But after work, we live in the world of our hobbies: manga, anime and games. That’s real happiness!

R: When you love each other, you can communicate without words. I talk to my yome, Rei, via telepathy. Rei is perfect! If I meet a perfect human, then the three of us can live together.

C: It’s always more fun when things are a bit unpredictable. I love Asuka because she is all about tsundere, which means stopping in the middle, or changing one’s attitude suddenly. She can turn kind of mean right out of the blue and say things like “You’re stupid!” That makes her interesting. I love and need tsundere.

R: Once you start loving moe characters, most humans don’t compare. I’m a married man as I have a yome. For me, she’s real. I adore her and I’d do anything for her. I get weak in the knees when I see her! All otaku love their yome or danna. My yome is the most important person in my life. She’s cute as a doll! I don’t need dreams, I’m living in a dream.

C: When you love your family, you’re happy to work hard to support them. I really wanted a danna and Cloud is so cool! I feel shy and very excited when I see his poster. At cosplay events, when I see a guy dressed as Cloud, I feel so shy that I just run away.

R: Otaku are misunderstood. The guy who killed people in Akihabara was not an otaku. He hated otaku, so he went there to kill. The media created an otaku monster, but he was just a normal monster.

C: Once you become an otaku, you naturally turn polite. All otaku have good manners; so unless you’re polite, you can’t be friends with an otaku.

R: Home is where the family is. We can’t sleep in hotels because we’d miss our anime characters and cars. So, when we travel, we sleep in our cars. At home it’s OK; we can take our dolls indoors. But people might look at us weird if we had dolls in our arms at a hotel check-in.

C: Even when we are living the dream, there’s room to hope for more. I want to own a shop selling otaku goods. I would dress as Asuka and make every day a cosplay party! The beauty of games is that you can’t predict how they will end, so you stay forever young. It’s fun!

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/ Twitter: judittokyo


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