Japanese upset by changes in definition of ‘otaku’

A recent analysis examining the evolution of the Japanese term “otaku” It has attracted considerable attention, which leaves users surprised by the extent to which the connotation of the word has changed over time. This insightful analysis was carried out as part of an educational program aimed at arousing interest in language and linguistics among primary and secondary school students in Japan. As part of the study students critically analyzed different definitions of the term “otaku” found in dictionaries.

Many people welcomed the transformation of the meaning of the term, because the common word has taken a more favorable direction. However, people who identify with the older, more negative definition of “otaku” seem reluctant to accept this change.

The conversation about this topic was sparked when a user on Twitter shared a report about the language lesson. exclaimed the user, “WOW! This clearly shows how the image of the word ‘otaku’ has completely changed. And from the students’ responses, it is even more surprising to see how the meaning listed in the dictionary has completely changed to reflect this transformation.“.

The IS Dr Wakako Kashino, editor of the eighth edition of the Iwanami Japanese dictionary, known for tracing language changes over the past century, led the lesson. The students were asked to compare the definition of “otaku” from the seventh edition of the dictionary with the current eighth edition:

  • The seventh edition depicted “otaku” as “a person who isolates himself in a narrow, hobby-oriented life and avoids social interaction with others“, a definition that surprised the students and left some of them discouraged because of negative associations.
  • In contrast, the eighth edition defines “otaku” as “a person who has a deep love for a particular hobby, owns and collects knowledge or items related to that field, and performs above-average actions“. According to the report, the students were more enthusiastic about the newer, more positive definition.

The shift from the negative representation of the seventh edition, which focused on withdrawal and anti-social behaviour, to the positive representation of the last edition, which emphasized passion and dedication, surprised many online users. One user said: “otaku. It seems to me that this term has changed completely in the last 15 or 20 years. I also think it is very rare to see how a word changes its meaning so quickly in such a short period of time..” The seventh edition was published in 2011, and the eighth edition was released in 2019, highlighting the recent change in the image of the term.

Although the new, more positive definition of “otaku” has emerged, some users question whether it accurately captures the essence of being an otaku. One user playfully commented: “When it gets too positive, it’s hard to use ‘otaku’ as self-deprecating humor, haha“. Another user reflected on the implications of the change, thinking: “So what should be called the original otaku?“.

Ultimately, as society evolves and perspectives change, the meaning of words is likely to change as well. The influence of the Internet has accelerated the process of changing the meanings of words, suggesting that the term “otaku” may undergo further evolution in the coming years. As definitions change and take on new dimensions, people who identify with the term “otaku” must grapple with the changing meanings, and ultimately shape their identities and communities.

Fountain: Media Automaton


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