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“Dinner with waifu” is a biannual event that takes place on the Japanese textboard site 2channel on Christmas Day and Valentine’s Day, during which self-described otakus share their pictures of romantic dinner dates with favorite anime characters.
Endearingly referred to as a “wife” (more commonly referred to as a "waifu" on the English Web), these dinner dates are typically embodied in the form of two-dimensional computer screen savers and figurines that are carefully staged around a plate of food.
To otaku culture outsiders, this may seem like a sad dinner for a creep. But for many patrons of 2channel who participate in the threads, it's a ritual that brings the lulz and even a sense of relief that comes with knowing that no one is alone in being alone.
2channel: online mecca of otaku culture
2channel is one of the oldest online bastions of Japanese nerd culture, mostly known for its history of breeding witty and uncensored memes and esoteric subcultures. One of the more interesting parts of the site is the Misc Chat board section, where it's common to encounter posts about dating and relationship issues, but far more commonly, the total lack thereof.
The grievances of lonely single guys grow especially louder around Christmas or Valentine's Day, two Western holidays synonymous with "romantic date" in Japan. Take “Christmas Cancellation Announcement,” for example, a seasonal fake news post reporting that Christmas has been "canceled" because of some sort of unforeseen event. Since first emerging in 2002, it has become a staple ritual within the community:
“This year’s Christmas has been canceled due to various reasons. This decision also brings a cancel of Christmas Eve. Sorry for the cancellation, and late announcement. We sincerely apologize to the people who were looking forward to Christmas.”
A brief history of “otaku dates”
The first "Dinner with Waifu" event began on the adult game board of 2channel’s adult-only spinoff site BBSPink on December 25, 2006. The photographs were eventually compiled into a video and uploaded onto Nico Nico Douga. On Christmas Day in 2007, members of 2channel’s /newsVIP/ board known as "Vippers" launched a thread titled “Dinner with Waifu” (嫁との晩餐)," which took off with hundreds of submissions and became the de facto name for the event.
In the following months, image compilations of “otaku dates” were published on Japanese and English blogs, and by February 2008, 4chan’s /a/ (anime) board adopted a similar event in celebration of Valentine’s Day.
Couple’s holidays, otaku’s room and moe fandom
A colorful arrangement of dishes, candlelight and moe characters on monitor screens altogether brings a snapshot of otherworldliness that cannot be unseen. (Moe - pronounced mo-eh - is a Japanese slang word often used to describe anime characters who are very cute, young girls. In some otaku culture corners, moe is fetishized.)
But the comments reveal the dubious nature of the photo meme. "It was getting late and the supermarket was closed, so I picked up a cake from the convenience store, forgive me ... " one user wrote next to his photograph. "This one is high-level," another user wrote, referring to a photo of a Vipper apparently dining out at a restaurant with his body pillow companion.
Couple's holidays can be a nuisance for single people everywhere, and self-deprecating comedy is one of many ways to cope with it. With pressures to adhere to the traditional norms of dating, marriage and family still very much present in Japanese culture, "Dinner with Waifu" serves as escapism and as a fraternity for those who are very much content with immersing themselves in otaku hobbies and lifestyles.
Japan is not alone in celebrating loneliness, as similar examples can be found elsewhere in East Asia, such as China's Loneliness Party and South Korea's Solo Regiment and of course from our very own Internet, Forever Alones.