XI Congreso Nacional y II Internacional
de la Asociación de Estudios Japoneses en España

Imagen Fondo AEJE


The revalorization of otaku culture as cultural heritage and tourist attraction.

Francisco Javier López Rodríguez - University of Seville.

Although there are exceptions, minority cultures, subcultures and urban tribes are usually made invisible in the construction of the national image of a country. The perception of these groups is complex because, on the one hand, they are considered as belonging to the mainstream culture (as people, they share a common background with all the citizens of a territory) but, on the other, they are seen as alien because they possess their own conventions and values. They live in an ambivalent tension but the general tendency is the concealment of these groups unless they can offer some kind of value to the State or to the political class.

In Japan we can observe that some urban tribes or certain social groups have been publicly criticized because they do not fit among the dominant values of society. People known as otaku, who are related to the consumption of products such as comics (manga), animation (anime), videogames and merchandising of famous franchises, conform an obvious example. During the 70s and the 80s, the number of this type of fans of popular culture increased. They started to be called otaku with a pejorative meaning and were hardly criticized for putting too much energy and passion into their hobbies. As a result, there were many complaints and actions (censorship, the media identification of the otaku with sexual perverts) that stained the image of those adults who consume manga and anime. This activity began to be seen as inappropriate, hedonist and disturbing.

Paradoxically, during the 90s, while Japan was sanctioning otaku culture, this particular identity was perceived as liberating and playful in many countries of the world. The international spread of Japanese animation (80s-90s) and Japanese comics (90s) brought the rise of anime and manga fans in USA, Europe and Asia. These international fans, free from the prejudices that this activity had in Japan, embraced these products. As a result, they became interested in Japan and their vision of this country's culture was shaped by manga and anime. This interest can easily be transformed into economic benefits for Japan's cultural industries and it represents a certain influence capacity through soft power. Therefore, Japan's authorities have changed their view of otaku culture. This previously insulted sub-culture has become an important asset for Japan in the middle of a world economic crisis.

My intervention will focus on the strategies used recently regarding the transformation of otaku culture into a legitimate part of Japanese culture (creation of manga and anime museums, academic study of otaku culture, manga characters as ambassadors of Japan) and tourist attractions (amusement parks, tourist routes).