Where do cultural hermits go when they finally leave the house? Akihabara, of course. Tokyo’s Electric Town has long been known as a Mecca of electronic components and all manner of high-tech gadgets. Recently, the district has attracted a number of new businesses that have transformed the area into the ultimate destination for the city’s growing Otaku sub-culture.
“Otaku”, an ultra-polite form of the word “you”, first gained wide-spread usage among Japanese anime and manga fans in the early 80’s. Usage of the word has alternated somewhere between derogatory and complimentary ever since.
In the 80’s and 90’s Otaku were seen as obsessive adolescents who lived in a fantasy world of manga and anime. In the 21st century Otaku have finally grown up. They’re now men in their 20’s and 30’s who live in a fantasy world of manga and anime. As a result, many of them actually have jobs (but not families) and the buying power that goes along with being a single, employed, cultural obsessive.
Recent studies indicate that Otaku spend $19 billion per year on their various obsessions. Needless to say, that kind of spending power has caught the attention of entrepreneur’s anxious to cash in on the Otaku fantasy world.
Traditionally Akihabara has been a center for retail electronics and a source of parts for the PC building crowd. It was only a matter of time before the natural geek-ness of Akihabara began to attract Otaku. These days new businesses are just as likely to be cosplay (costume) cafe’s with costumed waitresses who cater to every Otaku need (and believe me, they can be a needy lot).
At Cafe & Kitchen Cos-Cha, young Japanese women dressed as French maids greet Otaku with the phrase “Welcome home, master” (I suppose an American version would have the women dressed as genies). The At Home cafe features waitress/maids who speak to the Otaku in squeaky cartoon voices. For an extra fee they’ll change costumes before serving coffee.
Otaku seeking something a little more exotic than French maids can head over to Little BSD (Beauty’s Satanic Dining). In contrast to the cafes, Little BSD is more of a traditional Japanese bar — except for the part where costumed waitresses (aka “little beauty Satans”) shape rice balls into triangles and hand feed hungry Otaku.
There’s more than just costumed waitresses to attract Otaku to Akihabara. A variety of businesses cater to a range of Otaku interests. From comic books, anime, and video games, to vintage computers and the bewildering array of electronic components that Akihabara has long been known for – there’s a wide range of merchandise to lure the curious Otaku out of hiding.
It seems only natural that Tokyo’s Otaku would see Akihabara as a home away from home. The new businesses catering to their specific needs may actually be addressing a serious problem that has begun to concern Japanese sociologists. Experts estimate that Japan has nearly 1 million shut-ins nation-wide. Surprisingly (or not, given what we know about Otaku) most of those are men in their 20’s and 30’s who live at home with their parents. If it takes costumed waitresses to get these men out of their houses, then so be it.