Subculture as social knowledge : a hopeful reading of otaku culture

Hack, Brett

This essay analyzes Japan’s otaku subculture using Hirokazu Miyazaki’s (2006) definition of hope as a “reorientation of knowledge.” Erosion of postwar social systems has tended to instill a sense of hopelessness among many Japanese youth. Hopelessness manifests as two analogous kinds of refusal: individual social withdrawal and recourse to solipsistic neonationalist ideology. Previous analyses of otaku have demonstrated its connections with these two reactions. Here, I interrogate otaku culture’s relationship to neonationalism by investigating its interaction with the xenophobic online subculture known as the netto uyoku. Characterizing both subcultures as discursive practices, I argue that the similarity between netto uyoku and otaku is not one of identity but one of method. Netto uyoku discourse serves to perform an imagined nationalist persona. While otaku elements can be incorporated into netto uyoku performance, other net users invoke the otaku faculty of parody to highlight the constructed nature of netto uyoku identity through ironic recontextualization. This application of otaku principles enables a description of otaku culture as a form of social knowledge, reoriented here to defuse the climate of hopelessness purveyed by the netto uyoku. In the final section, I offer examples of subcultural knowledge being applied to national and international issues in order to indicate its further potential as a source of enabling hope for Japanese youth.