I’m sure many people are familiar with the term weeaboo, or a person who loves Japanese language and culture so much that they often want to be Japanese themselves (a much harsher definition can be found here), and although the internet tends to use it in a negative way, I think that most people who take Japanese start off as a bit of a weeaboo . For a long time, I did not know much about Japanese culture aside from what I learned from anime (To get a feel for the extent of my knowledge as a fourteen-year old learning Japanese, I watched this video and thought the whole thing was 100% correct), and I really wish I had tried to learn more earlier on.
I mean, a lot of what you see in the above video is somewhat true, but that’s not my point. Since I learned what the word was, I have had a relatively negative opinion of weeaboos, but I think that there is a certain point to which they don’t bother me. In other words, the otaku aspects of weeaboos don’t really make me feel uncomfortable, but their generalizations of Japanese culture, belief of mastery of the Japanese Language, and their obsession with ALL things Japanese irritate me to no end.
But wait, what is an otaku? Well otaku are defined as people who have a devotion to a specific subject or hobby, and are often collectors, enthusiasts, etc. towards that subject or hobby. Many people who are familiar with the term otaku are probably asking, “wait, I thought otaku was a term for a recluse to spends all their time watching anime, reading manga, or obsessing over their love for 2D characters,” but this isn’t true at all. Of course, anime/manga otaku are very common, but some other types of otaku include cosplay otaku, game otaku, idol group/jpop otaku, train otaku, robot otaku, history otaku – the list goes on and on. In Japan, otaku is a relatively general word describing someone with a very specific interest – similarly to how we would label someone as a “history buff” or a “geek.” Yes, many otaku are socially awkward, recluses, etc., but once again this is not true in all cases, as you may not expect someone to be an otaku by just looking at them.
Of course, there are varying degrees of otaku. If you want to figure out how otaku you are, you could take this quiz, but honestly, I scored a 74% and the most otaku things are a one piece key chain and a one piece business card holder – both presents from my friends. I really like a lot of manga/anime, and I would probably say that I am an otaku in some aspects, but I would never say that it makes me a less social person – in fact, I have made really good friends with people who I would never have connected with if it wasn’t for our similar interests in anime like one piece.
Although I would say that being an otaku in America could be considered similar to being a fan of marvel comics or something along those lines, in Japan, otaku isn’t really considered a very good thing. Times are changing and the word is being used more freely, but if you ask a Japanese person directly if they are an otaku, you will probably get a response saying that they are just big fans. Coming from California, where Japanese pop culture is HUGE, I would say that people in America tend to define the word otaku in a more positive light.
So wait – what’s the difference between otaku and weeaboos? Here it is. Otaku are often Japanese people or people who take Japanese/try to understand Japanese culture outside the context of manga or anime, and even if they don’t, they will not pretend that everything about Japan is awesome (which it isn’t, as in the case of any non-fictitious place).
I feel bad because I probably was like this as a fourteen-year-old freshman learning Japanese, but using random words like kawaii (cute) or sugoi (awesome/cool) mixed in with English can get a bit annoying. I mean saying stuff like, “OMG that shirt is like soooo kawaii on you desu~ :3” is funny when its between people who speak Japanese, but weird when its all you know how to say.
Living in California, where many people are more aware of Japanese culture and actually come in contact with Japanese people on a frequent basis, I never really felt like I had met a true weeaboo – in fact I didn’t fully understand what a weeaboo was until my first semester of college in Ohio. Towards the end of the semester, I went with two of my Japanese friends to a Japanese Student Organization Event where we made our own sushi. It was really fun, but it was there where I consciously met my first weeaboo.
I was just speaking to my friends in Japanese when a girl sitting near us got really excited and was all like
“YOU SPEAK JAPANESE?!??”
No one would ever think that I speak Japanese just looking at me, so I didn’t think that this reaction was strange. I replied that I had been studying for about four years now, and although I am no where near fluent, yes I can speak Japanese. She said that she knew lots of words in Japanese like kawaii and omoshiroi and suki, and although she kept using the words wrong in her Japanese – English sentences, I didn’t say anything (she seemed like she was having a lot of fun and I didn’t want to burst her bubble). She started asking if I watch Naruto, One Piece, etc, and I was totally okay with that (as I mentioned earlier, I usually connect with people who are also interested in anime). However, the conversation got weird when she started saying that she really like yaoi manga and how she loved BL(boys love) dramas. I’m not sure if my friends really got what exactly she was talking about, because she was talking a hundred miles a minute, but at that point I was really weirded out by this girl.
Maybe my encounter with a genuine weeaboo was not very pleasant, but I didn’t get the feeling that my friends were offended by her presence either. I asked them later about it, and my friend said that its great that the girl loved Japanese pop culture so much.
Maybe weeaboos can be ignorant, irritating people, but I feel like if more people had access to taking Japanese as a foreign language like I did, that they would be more educated about Japan and its culture. It is easy to see that Japan is not a perfect place if you go to visit or even if you take a World History class at the High School level. Thinking about it now, I am really lucky to have had the opportunities going to Japan, meeting Japanese people, and better understanding their culture through my own eyes, so I hope the weeaboos of the world have the chance to visit Japan or take Japanese at least once in their lives.