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A Guide to the World of Otaku Culture in Osaka

By Barun Sakur 
03 September 2020
A Guide to the World of Otaku Culture in Osaka

You may not recognize the word “otaku,” but we’re willing to bet that mentioning Hello Kitty, Power Rangers, Pokémon or Dragonball Z sparks some childhood memories. Still wondering exactly what is otaku? Check out our beginner’s guide to otaku in Osaka and get ready to jump in to this weird and wonderful world that’s a become huge part of local life and culture in the city!


Japanese anime, manga (comics), cosplay and other contemporary art and entertainment forms have spread worldwide from the 1980s, filled our childhood memories throughout the 90s and 2000s and continue to explode as a global phenomenon into the present day. Modern Japanese language uses the word “otaku” to mean a person who is a fan of the different art subcultures, whereas the West has kicked this up a notch by labelling otaku as geeks who are obsessed with these modern Japanese art forms. Japan’s own Nomira Research Institute has even conducted two separate studies and officially determined 12 different kinds of otaku. These go from the ever-famous manga, anime, and figurines and range to military and even train otaku! Yup, that young guy in the cafe wearing a fancy train conductor outfit might actually be a train otaku enthusiast, spending his free time photographing trains and collecting as many conductor outfits as his closet can fit! 

 

Oddly enough, the word otaku was originally a polite way to say “you,” but that all changed in 1983. Manga magazine columnist Ansaku Shibahara (aka Akio Nakamori) published an essay mercilessly scorning enthusiasts of the subculture as freaks, geeks, losers and outcasts, then singlehandedly deciding the word “otaku” shall henceforth be used as an umbrella label for anyone passionate about manga, anime and all the other forms of modern Japanese art and entertainment. Essentially, a word that had been used as a sign of respect got slashed up overnight to be used for disdain. And yet, 30 plus years later and the name has still stuck. 

 

In the West, the idea of reading Japanese comic books and following anime has always been seen as a hobby reserved for kids and the quirky. There have always been exceptions that have busted through the “cool” glass ceiling, including games like Final Fantasy, tv-to-movie franchises like Power Rangers and the insanely popular – though short-lived – phenom that was Pokémon Go. Forget all of those labels in Japan, where otaku culture is celebrated and enjoyed not only by kids but by adults, too. Whether they wear pocket protectors or slick business suits, you’ll spot grown-ups nose-deep in their favourite manga on their morning commute or in the magazine aisle of any convenience store in Japan. 

 

Where to Find Otaku 

Ask anybody in Japan where the most famous place to find otaku culture is and all fingers will point to Akihabara, a district of Tokyo lit up in a kaleidoscope of electric colours and blazing billboards. Head westwards until you get to Osaka, Japan’s third largest city, where all things otaku are found in the district of Nipponbashi Den Den Town. It gets its colloquial name from the Japanese word “denki,” which means electricity and gives homage to the district’s origins a supplier of large scale appliances and wholesale computer hardware.

With slowing customer patronage, the savvy business owners were looking for ways to expand their customer base and dissected who their main clientele were. They quickly realized that the patrons snapping up the computer hardware were kind of on the geeky side with a love of everything to do with otaku. And so, businesses catering to exactly their needs started popping up, eventually transforming into the mecca of manga (and everything else otaku) that it is today. The district even hosts a massive 1-day a year cosplay bonanza, shutting down the main drag for blocks on end as over 200,000 fill the street shoulder-to-shoulder to gawk at cosplay enthusiasts peacocking some of the best costumes you’ll ever see. Known as the Nipponbashi Street Festa, it’s definitely an event that’s not to be missed. 

 

So whether you’re a passionate fan of Hello Kitty, One Piece or even just trains, Japan’s got a whole subculture for you to celebrate your hobby in, in all its weird and wonderful glory. Welcome to Japan, the home of otaku.