Harada Mariru
April 6th, 2012
06:47 PM ET

Wonderland: The otaku's bedroom

A peek into an otaku's bedroom or living space can be a bit of a surprise for the average person.

But it's not unusual for fans of anime and manga in Japan to decorate their small rooms even more elaborately. Otaku rooms can be covered in posters and pillows or shelves with hundreds of collectible figurines, all emblazoned with favorite anime or manga characters. Some fans make a point of collecting as much merchandise associated with the object of their affection as they can, and making sure it's all on display. It's a form of decorative expression that many otaku in the rest of the world have also adopted.

You might have seen it in the Japanese drama "Train Man," the main character's bedroom is crammed floor to ceiling with shelves of statues and figures from popular anime series like "Mobile Suit Gundam" and stacks of manga.

Let's be clear: This is not "normal behavior" in Japan. While the otaku population is strong there, Japanese who get involved in any fandom to this degree earn a certain amount of disapproval from others. Some are reserved about letting people see their personal space because of it.

In his new book, "Otaku Spaces," author Patrick W. Galbraith digs even deeper into the way otaku choose to decorate their surroundings, and the reasons why they choose to do so in the way that they do. Just like American collectors, comfort plays a key role in why they choose to collect.

"Whether we look at bedrooms, stores or even neighborhoods where otaku hang out, it seems almost as if there is a colonization of space by interests," Galbraith said. "Whatever it was that interested them, they could encounter it anywhere and anytime in daily life, increasing feelings of intimacy. The more they consumed, the closer they felt to favorite series, characters or moments."

There's nothing weird about collecting things - in fact, most people do it. Whether it's DVDs, video games, stamps, vintage lunchboxes or even rare Star Wars figures, there's something attractive about the lore of the hunt, finding that oh-so-rare item.

In addition to that undeniable draw, there's also the space those coveted objects ultimately occupy - how you choose to display those things that you collect. As that space is filled, it brings a collection to life. Each object has a story attached to it - how you acquired it, where you were when you found it. Each piece of the collection acts like a thumbtack on the cork board of your life, pinning an object to a moment and creating a vivid, pointed memory.

If you've ever felt that way, you understand something about the heart of an otaku and how they live.

Otaku collecting is not limited to just anime-related merchandise. There are many different types of otaku, such as "Pasocon-ota" (computer geeks) and "Gunji-ota" (fans of military themed items).

Otaku even compete to have the most impressive rooms. Japanese culture guru Danny Choo challenged the readers of his website to  take photos of their rooms and submit them online, which were eventually compiled into a series of best-selling books called "Otacool." These books give the reader the ability to peek through the keyhole into a world that is equal parts foreign, unusual and absolutely fascinating.

"Otaku rooms are some of the most interesting rooms I get to see – filled to the brim with anime and game merchandise," Choo says. "Just like how mum likes to display and enjoy looking at crockery around the house, otaku love to be close to and admire physical representations of their favorite characters."

This method of collecting is merely a highly stylized version of any other collector's methods, but it holds a key in that it communicates a tremendous amount of information from one otaku to another, sketching a vast illustration of their specific interests and drilling down to subgenres of subgenres. In this form of collecting, a deeply personal form of expression is born.

The intimacy that this kind of collecting creates threads of connection between people with similar interests. At a glance, one can't help but wonder if there is some level of competition involved, as one of the things about the otaku bedroom that really jumps out at people is the sheer quantity of collectibles present. The word otaku, as well as their activities and ways of life, generates both positive and negative connotations. Some view the collecting as obsessive and the interest in anime characters as perverse.

What about the negative stipulations associated with this type of collecting, such as the viewpoint that their hobbies are too extreme?

Galbraith says that just because otaku are more specific in what they consume, and tend to know more about and get more involved with it, doesn’t mean that they are losers.

"Though it is true that some people might have hobbies that keep them at home, I don’t think interest in media or commodities means that you aren’t interested in people. People who consider otaku losers without ever meeting or talking to those who identify or are identified that way are probably just reacting to negative stereotypes. Or they are discriminating against hobbies that they do not share or understand."

Certainly there is something intimidating about a level of collecting that seems obsessive - especially if it's paired with isolation. However, one of the most remarkable things about otaku collecting is that is does allow bonding between fans on levels of interest so niche that it would be difficult to have the same connections with strangers.

By bonding over favorite shows, manga, fan art and more, otaku actually move further away from isolation. What once may have made them feel separated now gives them the chance to feel less separated then ever.

Galbraith says that in his observation, the otaku's collecting habits are less about social status and more about a way of life. In the otaku mindset, objects didn't matter as much as the process by which they were acquired.

"What I learned while talking to people about their spaces was that those who were truly collectors didn’t talk so much about social status. It was more about fulfilling a need. A personal need to see or have something, and, in his case, to share it. It leads us to think about the socioeconomic conditions that allow for the development of otaku spaces in Japan and beyond."

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Filed under: Otaku
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. social media in marketing

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    April 21, 2012 at 5:39 am |
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    April 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  3. Naitsab Resva

    Looks to me like your tinfoil is not very strong. You need to sew your fingers and toes together, lest the One World Government infiltrate your mind though the gaps. Seal all of your orifices now! Gouge out your eyes. Then you will see the light. Really. No, really. Trust me. I know what I am talking about. They are coming for you tomorrow at noon. What time zone are you in?

    April 9, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  4. Dr. B

    Wow, I see the freak show is out in force on the message boards this weekend. Some of the posters here are waaay more disturbing than any of the otaku hoarders in the article.

    April 8, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  5. Flora

    When I was in middle school, I SO wanted to have a room of my own to decorate just like that. I just went bright green with envy when I saw pictures of other otaku with entire bookcases of manga & comics, posters on the wall, gashapon (figurines) everywhere.

    That was years ago & I no longer want a space anywhere near that cluttered, but it's nice to see people are still having fun geeking out. :) Let the Gundam force be with you!

    April 8, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  6. Avser Bastian

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    USE OF MKULTRA + HUNGER GAMES TODAY....Use of psychology/psychiatry for mass population or ethnic cleansing as well as crimes to which we witness daily on behalf of Zionism/communism/liberalism.

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xpqc0u_part-80 EXACTLY HOW ETHNIC CLEANSING IS TAKING PLACE AGAINST NON SLAVS(German etc) THROUGHOUT EASTERN EUROPE SINCE WWII FOR THE SAKE OF USSR#2 + REAL 911 REVEALED !!!

    TRUTH ABOUT RUSSIAN COMMUNIST APPARATCHIK ALIKE GANGSTER AND TRAITOR DAVID DUKE OR 70 YEARS OLD US GOVERNMENT OBAMA(TERRORIST) NEWS

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    REMINDER...MY YOUTUBE ACCOUNT WAS HIJACKED(March 07th, 2012) BY US GOVERNMENT WHILE PRIMARY E-MAIL AS WELL AS BLOGS WERE ALL SHUT DOWN FOR THE SAKE OF CENSORSHIP REGARDING GENOCIDE AGAINST ME PERSONALLY THAT INVOLVED ABDUCTIONS / MK-ULTRA BRAINWASHING / FORCED BRAIN ELECTRODE – CHIP IMPLANTS / HUMAN EXPERIMENTATION / BLACKLISTING / FORCEFUL UNEMPLOYMENT AND ASSASSINATIONS !!! ALL AGAINST WHITE(under "NAZI" lie) CIVILIAN POPULATION TODAY IN 2011/2012 ACROSS THE EUROPE AND NORTHERN AMERICA !!!

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    April 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Friendly Advisor

      You really need to be committed

      April 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Avenger

      You might want to consider having you dosage increased

      April 9, 2012 at 8:29 am |
      • Esu

        hear hear! or is it here here? it's actually hare hare! thnaks for letting me know about LS. it is indeed quite ramble-oscious but in the way that grows on you. i've got a thing for Hirano so i've already got one bias there Konata reminds me of a friend at school (who acts/resembles her minus the gaming) which is actually pretty cool. Lucky Star just work it, and work it, and darling darling ! oops.

        September 14, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Arch

      Please make sure to leave some tinfoil for the rest of us when you're done making your hats.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  7. scir91onYouTube

    this is no different than a kid having 20 video games or a man having his garage and his toys (cars wrenches etc). otaku's quite awesome stuff ;)

    April 8, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  8. Fundy

    Thou shall have no other Gods before me.

    I see immense pain for these demon possessed souls after death.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • J

      Judge not lest ye be judged.

      April 7, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
      • Omar

        Why does Mr. Obama not release his long-form birth cetafiictre? This would prove his natural born citizenship. I understand he has spent over a millon dollar to hide it from the public. It will just cost a few dollars to take a copy and show it to the press.

        September 14, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • SuZieCoyote

      And you will answer the question, "Why did you judge and create human discord during your time on my glorious planet?"

      April 8, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Flora

      It's just collection, not worship. VAST difference.

      April 8, 2012 at 7:23 pm |