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Otaku Business Gives Japan's Economy a Lift (August 30, 2005)

Female otaku dressed as manga and anime characters. (PANA)
When the otaku, a uniquely Japanese style of geeks, first emerged in the early 1980s, they were generally seen as social misfits. Introverted and anti-social, they were happy to shut themselves at home and spend long hours indulging in hobbies, mainly collecting and reading manga (comic books) and watching anime (animated films). Yet over the years, thanks to such factors as the spread of the Internet and the increasingly mainstream popularity of video games, the otaku gradually took on a more visible profile. Today, some analysts believe they could actually be an important driver of Japan's economic growth.

Otaku Go Mainstream
This belief has been fueled by the emerging concept of moe, which refers to an attraction or affection toward specific characters or types of characters that appear in the anime, manga, or video games favored by otaku. An otaku who has a penchant for female characters with glasses, for instance, might be called a "glasses moe." The term moe is believed to have first appeared in the 1990s on the Internet, when it was used among otaku.

As with many trends, the moe phenomenon can be traced to the spread of the Internet. The new technology made it easier for otaku to communicate among themselves about their likes and hobbies, and in the process they became more mainstream and were seen in a more positive light.

A ¥2 Trillion Market
The Tokyo district of Akihabara is the main center of otaku culture. Not only is the district filled with stores selling anime DVDs and videos, but it also has coffee shops and other businesses catering to the otaku set. One such business, for example, is the "maid cafe," in which the waitresses are dressed in elaborate anime-inspired maid uniforms. The cafes have been enjoying brisk business.

A study suggests that sales of the objects that inspire moe - such as comic books, video games, and anime DVDs - have become so great that their positive impact on the Japanese economy can no longer be ignored. Behind the upsurge is the otaku penchant for amassing vast collections of the products they like and their willingness to spend huge sums in doing so. The Nomura Research Institute in August 2004 put the number of otaku in Japan at 2.85 million, accounting for a market estimated at ¥290 billion ($2.5 billion at ¥110 to the dollar). In April 2005, the Hamagin Research Institute reckoned the market for moe-related content was worth ¥88.8 billion ($807 million) in 2003.

As the Hamagin survey was based on only three types of content - comics, DVDs/videos, and video games - this may be only part of the story. One economic analyst estimates that if products and services related to moe are included, such as character goods, figurines, trading cards, and the maid cafes, then the market is on the scale of at least ¥2 trillion ($18 billion). It is no surprise then, that the securities industry pays close attention whenever a new character with moe potential is rolled out.

Geeks Go Global
What is more, this is a market showing signs of further expansion. Already the maid cafes have spread throughout Japan, while an exam aimed at the "otaku elite" that certifies bona fide geeks for their knowledge of otaku culture took place for the first time in August.

The vast majority of otaku are men. However, an increasing number of women are also succumbing to moe feelings. A guidebook published by JTB Corp. titled, Moe Rurubu Tokyo Annai (Moe Guide to Tokyo) has been a hit even among women.

Japan has become famous around the world for its manga and anime, which are exported all over the globe. Some observers expect the related moe phenomenon to be exported eventually, too. One day the word moe may become a byword for the economic benefits of otaku culture.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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