Are you a nerd or a geek? If calculations are correct, I’ve probably pissed off oodles of others, who have also pissed off their fair share of fellow nerds. It’s a vicious cycle: otaku (loosely “geek” or “nerd”) pissing off other otaku. But it exists and, otaku being otaku, there’s not much one can do about it.
I’ll be a nerd and point out that, yes, there is a nuance of difference between otaku and their Western counterparts. One of the big differences is that otaku refer to people who are very much into something. Thus, there are train otaku, Gundam otaku, sticker otaku, game otaku, movie otaku and so on and so forth.
Yes, in the West, you could say that a “nerd” or a “geek” is someone who is obsessed with something. So you have film geeks and comic nerds and so on. There is a nuance of difference between “nerd” and “geek”, with geeks being slightly more socially acceptable. Nerds are, in my construct, more passionate and more angry. Thus, you have the somewhat cute term “geek out” (to get excited about something), but then also the more vitriolic “nerd rage” (to get utterly pissed off).
Otaku are somewhere in the middle, but different in that for a long time they have been painted as socially unacceptable in Japan. While in the West, nerds or geeks are typically painted as awkward, but good at math or science, otaku were viewed as obsessive types, who spent their time in dark rooms. In 2005, the perception changed with Train Man, a book of collected BBS postings about an otaku who wins over a pretty girl. For a brief moment, otaku became cool. That is, until the Akihabara Massacre, and the spectre of the malevolent returned. Often people in the West think it’s cool to refer to themselves as “otaku”, but many in Japan find the word somewhat embarrassing, preferring the term “Akiba-kei” or “Akiba-type”.
All of this being said, I think that for all intents and purposes, nerd, geek and otaku can be used somewhat interchangeably. The English words “geek” and “nerd” do a good enough job expressing the spirit of the word “otaku”.
Japanese polling site Goo Research (via What Japan Thinks) polled over one thousand members of its research pool. Note that ages ranged from teens to over sixty, with the majority being in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Over 67 percent of those polled were female!
The question asked folks what otaku behaviour might make other otaku annoyed. Number one with a bullet was when people get names or explanations slightly wrong. Included in the top ten were things like those who suddenly start spouting info to impress the opposite sex, pretending like they know more than they really do, being smug about stuff everyone knows or saying they are otaku, but only know about mass market things. The whole list can be read here.
Many, if not most, of online arguments are simply nerds duking it out. Or nerds trying to out nerd each other. Some of that ends up as trolling. Some of it is an honest-to-goodness exchange of ideas. The purpose of the survey, of course, is to attempt to pin point what otaku behaviour ticks off fellow otaku. What it obviously doesn’t broach is how otaku (nerds, geeks, whatever) can be an endless source of knowledge – some useful, some utterly useless. There’s passion there, annoying, enlightening and everything in between.
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