Geeks/nerds and Japanese culture obsession: why?

No, I’m not saying that all geeks and nerds are into Japanese culture, nor am I saying that people who are fans of Japanese culture are all geeks. Still, it appears that a disproportionately large number of those who would identify as geeks or nerds, or otherwise have personality traits associated with geeks or nerds, are obsessed with Japanese culture; not just manga, but also the minutae such as J-pop, bento box styles and so on.

Just one example: ThinkGeek has a portion of the site that is devoted to Japanese-themed t-shirts. There’s no French-themed shirts, German-themed shirts, or Italian-themed shirts - Japanese shirts. Likewise, American Francophiles, Germanophiles, and so on tend not to be part of the geek/nerd subculture to the extent of those who are Japanophiles.

My question: why? Why aren’t geeks generally as obsessive about … oh, Thai culture or Argentinian culture as they are about Japanese culture?

Because Japan is also full of geeks and nerds, so the culture is already oriented towards them in a big way.

If I had said “oriented” in that context in any place other than here, I’d be in big trouble.

Also, they think that an obsessive interest in Japanese culture will be a sure thing to win them over a hot Japanese chick…

…whereas the reality seems to be that the best way to win over a hot chick of any Asian nationality is to be as far away from her culture as humanly possible.

The same way that Asian chicks are exotic to us white guys - it works the other way around too, you know. They’re not looking to date their brother.

At least in Japan, it’s not the interest in Japanese culture that’s a turn-off. One of the reasons that Japanese women are interested in foreign men is because there’s a lower percentage of male gaijin who expect women to do all the cooking and cleaning. Things have obviously been changing, but you still encounter cultural sexism that’s of a higher degree than in the western world.

It’s not just the high technology, the rituals of life there seem more attuned to those who seek pleasure in endlessly categorising and analysing minutiae.

I’m moderately geeky and nerdish, and I an intersted in Japanese culture.

I think the interest is in part because it’s an advanced culture that is very different from Western culture, which has deep historical roots as well embracing the 21st century. That’s true of Chinese and of Indian culture too, and of course those have their fans, though not as many as the Japanese fans.

What Japan has on top is manga and anime, which make the whole culture reasonably accessible. Corresponding with that, India has Bollywood movies and China has martial arts dramas, but they only give you a small slice of the culture they come out of. Anime and manga pretty well run the whole range of Japanese culture, even if some aspects (such as high school uniforms) are over-emphasised. That I think is the big attraction: there’s a whole universe there, which an average gaijin otaku can get into relatively easily.

I think for many geek guys it boils down to sex. Geek guys are notoriously bad at getting any, partially because they (broad generalizations follow) have trouble reading social signals, they see women as exotic “other” creatures, they do not want to make the moves that expression interest (nice guy syndrome) and they see relationships in a rather rigid way that is probably somewhat detached from reality (chivalry never died in geek land.)

And so they see Japan as an alternate romantic universe. One where the smart guy gets the girl, not the strong one. They see a world where women like the old-fashioned ideas of romance and act the way they imagine women should act. If they need porn, they can even get porn without any actual (scary!) women in it.

They also see see a place where the social rules are more rigid and therefore more comprehensible- not the confusing and mutable landscape of American social relations among youth. They imagine it as someplace where people could truly see the shining knight that lies beneath the Cheetos and Mountain Dew. A place where people (especially girls) can truly appreciate them, and where they can be the guy everyone wants to know.

A pretty broad generalisation :dubious: I know some geeks who have had a heck of a lot more romantic success than I.

I’m kind of a geeky girl - well, really more nerdy - and I love the romance and mysticism of the samurai culture. Sure, it was brutal, but like the knights, I really prefer to ignore the brutality and focus on the things that came out of their culture that are unique and interesting. I am fascinated with how differently they viewed the world. In a world where life was the most important thing everywhere else, they found their honor more important. They really did pursue perfection in all of their tasks. Men and women, it wasn’t as though they were expecting only one to follow it. I don’t think it’s a life choice for today, but how could it not be fascinating?

The Asian cultures were reading and writing and shooting off fireworks while Europe was still grubbing in the dirt, mostly. Exaggerations, but you see where I’m going. Japan just happens to be one of the more exotic locales.

I think it’s because the Japanese exported an awful lot of their pop culture. When I was a kid there were Japanese Monster Movies – Godzilla, Gigantis (remember him?), and Rodan. The others came later(as did the word “kaiju”, which I never encountered until recently). There were also really obscure Japanese animations that showed up in syndication, and which I still have not seen again. Then came AstroBoy, 8th Man, Gigantor, Speed Racer, Kimba the vWhite Lion, Amazing Three, and others. Even by the early 1960s, Japanese pop culture was accessible (and cool!) I also knew from their exhibits at the 1964-65 World’s Fair and from news reports that Japanese culture was technology-obsessed and looking at the latest techno-craze. So from pretty early on, I encountered Japanese culture and fou nd it interesting.
Nobody else was doing this – We didn’t get cartoons from Germany or Russia or France or Iran (all of which did have their own cartoons, which I’ve found frequently interesting). Nobody arranged for fantastic European TV shows to be shown in the US. The reasons are probably complex – a mixture of Japanese creativity and the inexpebnsiveness of the Japanese product and the willingness of people to both export it from Japan and import it into the US, along with the relentless maw of TV stations to fill hours with inexpensive content that people would be willing to watch.

You could’ve had German culture obsession, if they stars had been right – They were techno-obsessed, too. They made TV shows. But I’m not familiar with anything as weird and engaging. And I’ll bet their prices were higher. Japan was cheap.

Clint Black… Ruff!

Every culture gets their 15 minutes of fame. We’ve done Ireland, England, Australia, Italy, and South America. It’s Japan’s turn now. Up next will be Scandinavia, followed by Canada, then India.

I would undoubtedly qualify as one of the geeks or nerds from the OP. I would say that the underpinning cause of today’s Japanophilia can be traced to the somewhat repressive nature of Japanese society. I don’t mean to overstate this, but there is a definite tendency for people to not talk about certain hobbies or interests in their public lives. So take a bunch of people who like cartoons but can’t talk about them with there co-workers and have them find each other. You’ll get something a good deal like comic book culture in America with people who seem pretty darn obsessive when put together. When people with a similar disposition get together, they tend to feed off of and reinforce one another. Probably the urban nature of Japan has something to do with achieving critical mass. Regardless, this leads to something like Akihabara, which westerners see and think “cool, I wish my society had that!” without realizing that it is actually atypical of the culture that produced it, rather than the norm. Consequently, you get a lot of westerners idolizing Japanese culture without quite realizing that they are only looking at a small part of it.

Now, that was a rambling oversimplification, but I think there’s some truth to it. Another contributing factor is Japan’s cultural nostalgia. Samurais are basically to them what cowboys were to Americans in days past. We’ve largely de-romanticized that period (after all, it was really more about genocide than heroics) but the Japanese have not (even though the reality is no more glamorous). So it makes a lot of sense that some westerners would treat samurai like the new cowboys.

The whole high school thing is also interesting. As I understand it, the Japanese school systems generally become a larger and larger part of a child’s life as they get older, to the extent that a Japanese high schooler will spend a far greater percentage of his time involved in school sponsored activities than his western counterpart. When it comes to cartoons and comics, there’s probably a roughly even distribution of ages throughout the stories comparing Japan and America, but since school plays a bigger role in a teenager’s life over there, of course we’re going to see far more high school scenes in manga. Now, it’s no secret that many geeks and nerds didn’t have such a great time in high school, and since comics focus on heroic people being cool and doing heroic things, the western audience is going to get a somewhat skewed and rather idolized version of foreign schools. No surprise that some of them will think “man, that society is so much better than ours!” when all of the nitty gritty details are glossed over.

Finally, I will add that Japan seems to have just the right mix of foreignness and familiarity to appeal to Americans. We share most of our cultural heritage with Western Europe, so we tend to think of those guys as too similar. Just about everywhere else is too different. Japan, however, did a whole lot of modernizing by copying western institutions, so most of the basic societal structures are easily recognizable to us. But there’s that added exoticism that makes it almost a fantasy land for us, where things are similar enough that we don’t get too confused but different enough to preserve some sense of wonder.

Alright, that’s enough of my rambling. Hopefully that was not too incoherent.

I didn’t know until the decade after I watched them, that quite a few shows I had pegged as Japanese/American anime were actually Japanese/French collaborations, Ulysses 31, Mysterious Cities of Gold, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors for example.

I’m a geek/nerd. I like Japanese culture. I’ve watched anime since I was a little girl, watching Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion on my black and white TV. I was introduced to more of Japanese culture by a cousin who dated Japanese girls in the early 80s, and picked up my first words of Japanese from him. I have always found some traditional aspects of the culture interesting, such as kimonos and the tea ceremony, but I’ve never had the patience to learn the particulars. For example, I would like to learn tea ceremony, but fear I could never get it right. I know that Japanese culture, like all other world cultures, is not perfect, and there are some aspects that turn me off, such as the rampant sexism and xenophobia, but I choose to focus on the positive aspects.
The above is my own personal experience, I cannot speak for others.

Uh, when did that happen? Italy and Australia and S. America?

I think it’s simple really. There are fewer high tech gadgets and video games in those cultures. Geeks imagine Japan as a geek’s paradise because of stuff like that.

I’m relatively geekish and partially nerdly, and I enjoy studying Japanese and Chinese history and culture, but I cannot stand the anime and manga of Japan. It may be the poor translations, but very little of what those characters do make any sense to me; many of their actions seem devoid of emotional context. Why the hell did he attack that guy? Why can’t he just apologize? Why is she acting like that? What the fuck is going on here, man? Why is there black stuff coming out of his nose? And why are all these aspiring artists copying that shit? Think for yourselves, man! Carve your own style, don’t copy!

I might advance the theory that a high proportion of the geeks and nerds of America suffer from some Asperger-like condition, where emotional context is a mystery. Fortunately, possibly since Japanese and Chinese people are not as overtly expressive as Westerners — I remember watching a seminar teaching Japanese businesspeople how to smile — manga and anime have codified and ritualized some exaggerated symbols of interaction. Bleeding nose = love or lust; fingers in a “rockin’ mosh pit” gesture = surprise; hands clapped together and eyes drawn like two upside-down Us = glee; character suddenly looks childlike = god only knows but it must mean something.

So maybe it’s that people who have trouble decoding the emotional context of realistic American comics are drawn to the Japanese version where all the symbols are drawn explicitly for the reader to interpret.

I think this is a very good theory, and I definitely agree with it. I especially am bothered by all the people aping its style instead of trying to develop something unique.

It’s funny, I just watched an episode of MTV’s “Made” today and the girl that wanted to be made over was a total otaku/anime freak/Japanophile.

I often tried to explain this to people who are not even remotely interested in Japan. The following is just my two cents here.

I think it’s because Japan still offers an aura of foreign-ness without being completely while still having many qualities of home. It’s not as foreign as living in a hut in Kenya, but it’s not as common as going out into our backyard. It’s a highly technological, first-world country, but it’s not America.

I think that quality in itself provides a sense of reclusion to the Japanophiles that are not so readily accepted here. A lot of them seem to just hold out for the day that they save up enough money to go fly over to Super-Happy-Fun-Anime-Foreign-Cute-Land in hopes of playing all of the new games, reading all of the new manga, and being worshipped by the Japanese because they have worshiped their comics and cartoons for so long. Needless to say, the majority of these kids never actually go to Japan and the small percentage that do are in for the rude awakening that Japan is not all marshmallows and unicorn giggles like they expected it to be.

As I’ve probably mentioned too many times, I studied abroad in Japan. It was something that I had wanted to do since a middle schooler. I’ll admit, it was my curiosity of poorly-dubbed anime that got me interested. My best friend from middle school, B, had the exact same interest as me in Japan. As we grew older, they diverged. Whereas I was interested in Japan for the culture, history, and language B liked it for the anime, manga, and cutsey things. She was one of the stereotypical Japanophiles that thought Japan would be loving foreigners and just a fairytale land, while I went into the situation with realistic expectations. In the end, B didn’t go to Japan, as she couldn’t handle the language classes at college. She still continues her love of manga and anime and found other people who were the same and became even more enveloped with it. Due to our growing differences we grew apart.

The otaku that did make it through the course were given a rude awakening when they got there and saw that anime and manga wasn’t plastered everywhere and that the place wasn’t what they expected. Those that came in with more realistic expectations saw that it was like any other country with both good and bad points. When I think about my otaku friends that experienced the most culture shock, I sometimes wonder if they had preferred to never have gone and keep their fantasy of Japan alive in their minds.

Some people love it because it’s expected of them. Some love it because it’s a fad. Some love it because they are genuinely interested.

Again, there are people who like Japan for more than it’s anime, not all otakus are stupid and drop out of language classes, YMMV, blah blah etc. etc. This is just my two cents.