Forty years ago, writer Akio Nakamori wrote a column for the magazine Manga Burikko in which he coined the term “otaku” for a group of young people he saw at a Comiket convention.
While the term is derived from a Japanese honorific for “you,” Nakamori was far from polite in his description of the subculture: The “guys in every class... who are completely inept at sports, and during recess they stay inside the classroom playing chess,” he called them. He described otaku girls as “overweight” and the boys as “bizarre,” and, just like that, a new pejorative was born.
At a time when Japan’s economy was booming and citizens were expected to conform to a salaryman lifestyle, the word “otaku” was used to describe social outcasts obsessed with niche hobbies like trainspotting, reading manga or playing video games. But the outcasts of the 1980s walked so we the proud otaku of the 2020s could double jump. Over time, any shame associated with following the super-powered saga of “Dragon Ball Z” or spending an entire Saturday adventuring through the worlds of Final Fantasy has dissipated. Much like the rise of “geek chic” in the West, otaku culture is now openly celebrated in Japan.