Debating Otaku

Publication: New edited volume on the ‘otaku’ discourse in Japan, including original contributions translated into English for the first time. Historical perspectives and new horizons!

Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan:
Historical Perspectives and New Horizons

Edited by Patrick W. Galbraith, Thiam Huat Kam and Björn-Ole Kamm (2015)
London: Bloomsbury Academic

About Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan

With the spread of manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese cartoons) around the world, many have adopted the Japanese term ‘otaku’ to identify fans of such media. The connection to manga and anime may seem straightforward, but, when taken for granted, often serves to obscure the debates within and around media fandom in Japan since the term ‘otaku’ appeared in the niche publication Manga Burikko in 1983.

Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan disrupts the naturalization and trivialization of ‘otaku’ by examining the historical contingency of the term as a way to identify and contain problematic youth, consumers and fan cultures in Japan. Its chapters, many translated from Japanese and available in English for the first time – and with a foreword by Otsuka Eiji, former editor of Manga Burikko – explore key moments in the evolving discourse of ‘otaku’ in Japan. Rather than presenting a smooth, triumphant narrative of the transition of a subculture to the mainstream, the edited volume repositions ‘otaku’ in specific historical, social and economic contexts, providing new insights into the significance of the ‘otaku’ phenomenon in Japan and the world.

By going back to original Japanese documents, translating key contributions by Japanese scholars and offering sustained analysis of these documents and scholars, Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan provides alternative histories of and approaches to ‘otaku’. For all students and scholars of contemporary Japan and the history of Japanese fan and consumer cultures, this volume will be a foundation for understanding how ‘otaku’, at different places and times and to different people, is meaningful.

Table Of Contents

Foreword: Otaku Culture as ‘Conversion Literature’ Otsuka Eiji (International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Japan)

Introduction: ‘Otaku Research’ Past, Present and Future Patrick W. Galbraith (Duke University, USA), Thiam Huat Kam (Rutgers University, USA) and Björn-Ole Kamm (Kyoto University, Japan)

Section 1: The 1980s

1. ‘Otaku’ Research and Anxiety About Failed Men Patrick W. Galbraith

2. The Birth of ‘Otaku:’ Centring on Discourse Dynamics in Manga Burikko Yamanaka Tomomi (Yokohama National University, Japan)

3. Opening the Black Box of the 1989 Otaku Discourse Björn-Ole Kamm

Section 2: The 1990s

4. Traversing Otaku Fantasy: Representation of the Otaku Subject, Gaze, and Fantasy in Otaku no Video Shen Lien Fan (University of Utah, USA)

5. Introduction to Otaku Studies Okada Toshio (Osaka University of Arts, Japan)

Section 3: The 2000s

6. The Construction of Discourses on Otaku: The History of Subcultures from 1983 to 2005 Aida Miho (Hiroshima City University, Japan)

7. Train Man and the Gender Politics of Japanese ‘Otaku’ Culture: The Rise of New Media, Nerd Heroes and Consumer Communities Alisa Freedman (University of Oregon, USA)

8. The Transformation and the Diffusion of ‘Otaku’ Stereotypes and the Establishment of ‘Akihabara’ as a Place Brand Kikuchi Satoru (Shinshu Unviersity, Japan)

9. The Transition of Otaku and Otaku Okada Toshio

10. ‘Otaku’ as Label: Concerns over Productive Capacities in Contemporary Capitalist Japan Thiam Huat Kam


Debating Otaku offers a cogent introduction and a well-conceived series of essays that bring into focus not only the various socio-historical strands contributing to the discursive construction of otaku, but also the polemical stances that have made the term otaku central to debates about media and society in Japan. This collection succeeds beautifully in its central mission: to introduce a pause, a moment of hesitation, into the headlong rush of statements in circulation about Japanese youth, consumption, and pop culture. It will make you think again about otaku, and again.”
–  Thomas Lamarre, James McGill Professor in East Asian Studies, McGill University, Canada

“Insightful, honest and provocative, this volume brings together leading scholars to explore the contentious debates around ‘oaku’… Exploring the 1980s to today, the essays collected here are a must-read for anyone with an interest in contemporary popular culture.”
Ian Condry, Professor of Comparative Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Debating Otaku‘s careful collection of key texts translated from Japanese alongside new critical works helps readers make sense of the figure of the otaku, and understand the complexities of past and present debates around it. This book is a major resource and a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what the otaku is or might be.”
Marc Steinberg, Associate Professor of Film Studies, Concordia University, Canada