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Cultura Otaku

Japanese upset by changes in the definition of ‘otaku’

A recent analysis examining the evolution of the Japanese term “otaku” has garnered considerable attention, leaving users surprised by the extent to which the word’s connotation has transformed over time. This insightful analysis was carried out as part of an educational program aiming to spark interest in language and linguistics among elementary and middle school students in Japan. The study involved students critically analyzing various definitions of the term “otaku” found in dictionaries.

The transformation of the meaning of the term has been greeted positively by many, as the connotation has taken a decidedly more favorable direction. However, people who identify with the older, more negative definition of “otaku” seem hesitant to accept this change.

The conversation around this topic was sparked when a user on Twitter shared a report about the language lesson. The user exclaimed, “Wow! This clearly shows how the image of the word ‘otaku’ has been completely transformed. And from the reactions of the students, it is even more surprising to see that the way in which the meaning listed in the dictionary has changed fully reflects this transformation.“.


The Dr. Wakako Kashino, editor of the eighth edition of the Japanese Iwanami dictionary, known for tracking 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 portrayed “otaku” as “a person who isolates himself in his narrow, hobby-oriented world and avoids social interaction with others“, a definition that caught students by surprise and left some discouraged due to negative associations.
  • In contrast, the eighth edition defines “otaku” as “a person who deeply loves a specific hobby field, owns and collects knowledge or items related to that field, and takes actions beyond the average“. According to the report, 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 unsociable behavior, to the positive representation of the last edition, which emphasized passion and dedication, has surprised many users online. One user commented: “otaku. It seems to me that this term has changed completely in the last 15 or 20 years. I also think it’s quite 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, while 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 becomes hard to use ‘otaku’ as self-degrading humor, haha“. Another user reflected on the implications of the change, wondering: “So what should the original otaku be called?“.

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 transforming word meanings, suggesting that the term “otaku” could undergo further evolution in the coming years. As definitions adapt and take on new dimensions, people who identify with the term “otaku” must grapple with the changing connotations, ultimately shaping their sense of identity and community.

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