How Otaku Piss Off Other Otaku

How Otaku Piss Off Other Otaku

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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  • So this is a thing I’ve noticed. I always thought geeks were more socially awkward nerds whereas a lot of US people think the opposite.

    To me a nerd was someone who was good at academics and a geek was someone who always carried a four colour pen and didn’t quite know how to fit in.

    • Yeah this is how I always saw it too. Maybe it’s just a slight culture difference between here and America.

  • Agree with your definitions, but would disagree about the three being interchangable.

    Geek and Otaku are interchangable, however being a Nerd (a badge I wear proudly). Being a Nerd is more than simply being obsessed by something. It is the way you see and approach life. I am not obsessed by one thing. I am overly emphatic about everything in life and have always had trouble fitting into anything where I needed to think a different way.

    Geeks and Otakus outside of their choose scene generally tend to be the same as other people. I find it sort of sad that in the last few years that there has been this generalisation and even populisation of this type of life (i.e. Big Bang Theory imitators, etc) that is now encroching on what used to be an outsiders group.

    What happened to the accepted definition Hacker from the 1960’s (insanely skilled builder of tech) to now (someone who attacks pcs) is what is happening to the definition of Nerd.


  • I’ve always been of the opinion that nerd = someone who spends their life doing something ‘nerdy’ (eg science, maths) at the expense of any sort of social life. The sort of person who spends their life studying for the next exam instead of having friends etc.

    As opposed to a geek, who has some ‘weird’ interests, but they still have a social life, so to speak. eg a bunch of people going to a LAN, friends cosplaying together at an anime convention, etc.

    And that’s the sort of experience I’ve had with ‘otaku’ (or, more specifically, wota- music otaku). I’ve hung out with Japanese wota I’ve met at concerts, gone to karaoke with them, played at the games arcade etc. They’re a bunch of geeks into geeky things, but they do it together- they don’t spend their lives buried in a text book.

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