|Synopsis||Gianni Simone offers a look at Japanese experiences for otaku wishing to visit the birthplace of anime.|
Japan has become somewhat of a mecca for weebs and otaku across the world. Many video game developers and most mangaka reside in the island nation. On top of that, the cherry blossom-flecked landscape and architectural wonders make Japan a beautiful country to want to visit. If you, like many other Japanophile geeks out there, are planning a pilgrimage to the birthplace of anime and manga, this travel book is required reading.
Violence/Scary Images: None
Language: Use of h**l when it relates to names of characters or places.
Drug/Alcohol References: Includes bars and prices of alcohol.
Sexual Content/Nudity: Discussion and reference to explicit manga in various ways, including “porn” and “adult.” There are no pictures, but readers should be advised these mentions are frequent when discussing manga stores, especially those selling “dojinshi” (fanfiction). The last page of the book has a paragraph dedicated to “Hentai (Pornography)” warning travelers about the constant erotic images they will encounter, including depictions (visual and written) of incest, underage sex, and rape. The author mentions this is related to Japanese culture; most locals do not care to censor these things and even actively look for them.
Other Negative Content: Maid cafés and other specialized experiences are mentioned and discussed to some degree. One of these experiences includes a pretend dorm room where people can pay to chase squealing girls dressed as students for a predetermined amount of time. The author takes a stance that maid cafés are not inherently sexual in nature, but are portrayed that way in the media. Readers are encouraged to decide their own views about these typical Japanese adventures and read accordingly.
Spiritual Content: Few mentions of shrines. Spirits and yokai are discussed within the context of anime and manga in which they appear.
Positive Content: Perfect as a guidebook. Takes into account different areas in which otaku may be interested and displays prices and hours with a small summary of each location.
This reviewer was given a copy of this book by the publisher.
The Book Itself
Otaku Japan is a detailed guidebook for English-speakers interested in traveling to Japan. It focuses on anime, manga, and video game-related experiences. Some distinctly Japanese adventures, like maid cafés, are also featured. The book is full of colorful pictures, maps, and suggested places to visit. It is the perfect directory for exploring the country’s geek hotspots.
The guidebook is broken into parts by region and then into smaller chapters by city or area. For example, Chapter One centers on Tokyo and is divided into Akihabara, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Jimbocho, Harajuku, Nakano, West Tokyo, Odaiba, and Ikebukuro. Some of these regions will be familiar to those who play games or watch anime set in this vast city like The World Ends with You (Shibuya) or Steins;Gate (Akihabara).
Each section relays various places for otaku to visit, breaking these down even further into categories like cafés, bars, gaming, museums, showcases, festivals, and more. The spreads are filled with bright, geeky pictures of figures, statues, manga, and landscapes. Every experience and store has a summary blurb, an explanation of which type of otaku would enjoy it, the pricing, and its hours.
Scattered throughout the book are special treats for readers. Some spreads are dedicated to interviews with Western workers living in Japan while others highlight festivals or idol groups. The author does a wonderful job explaining the reasoning behind certain festivals, how to participate as a visitor, and the nuances to know before joining. For example, many idol concerts do not sell tickets to fans, but instead hold a lottery, similar to America’s San Diego Comic-Con. Gianni Simone gives readers instructions and advice for entering these lotteries, instead of simply describing them.
Tips for Reading
First and foremost, Otaku Japan is a guidebook. There is no narrative or characters, just paragraph after paragraph of information. This information is usually presented in short blocks of text which have little to nothing to do with the preceding paragraph aside from its category. This makes the text easy to find when one is using it to plan a visit to Japan. However, it makes for a fairly bland read outside of traveling unless you fall into a few categories.
1. Those who want to learn more about Japan from the comfort of their couch.
The introduction explains the otaku culture boom and how the West became anime-obsessed. It also dives into the wonderful world of otaku cafés and game centers. The author discusses a bit of the history of each café type and what to expect when visiting. The next few pages are taken with stage plays based on manga, known as 2.5-D Musicals, and doujinshi (fanfiction) publishing. Plus, at the beginning of each chapter, Simone describes the history of the area and how it relates to the geek scene. In cities where mangaka have museums dedicated to them, he discusses a bit of their life and work.
2. Those who want to pursue a career in Japan: modeling, cosplaying, writing anime/manga, developing games, and so on.
Simone scatters interviews in pages between regions. Most, if not all, of the individuals are Western-born and moved to Japan because they fell in love with its media and culture. Some of them are CEOs of businesses that create Gundam-like figures; others are professional cosplayers and models. One man made his way into the underground publishing industry and even started a ‘zine (magazine) convention with his business. The most helpful section is the last page, “Working in Japan.” The writer describes the difficult working circumstances that exist in the nation while giving hope to newcomers. He lists schools, agencies, and auditions for those ready to take the next step (or perhaps the first step) in their overseas career.
3. Those who love otaku culture so much they must read all about it and look at all the pictures of the anime/figures/manga/dolls/etc. they love.
I fit into this category. Even though reading this book like a novel was difficult, I could not quit. The beautiful pictures of manga museums and doll showcases kept my attention flitting from page to page. I learned fun facts about not only the towns from my favorite anime but also their authors. If you are a hardcore otaku or weeb, there is no need to read this book from start to finish. You can enjoy the pictures, or you can skip to the places you would personally enjoy.
As a guidebook, I would recommend Otaku Japan in a heartbeat. It breaks down every city into manageable pieces and succinctly explains various places geeks will want to explore. The book is set up with maps directing tourists to each destination from the closest train station, knowing how and where they will have to travel. It was obviously written by someone familiar with the areas, and that familiarity shines through each page.
Keep in mind, the information may be dated, and pop-up shops may have closed down. However, the chain stores and museums should still be operational, and Otaku Japan makes sure to include a variety of experiences for its readers. Anyone wishing to visit Japan, find a job there, learn more about the nation’s geekiest cities, or indulge in comfort reading about their favorite mangaka are sure to love it.
In conclusion, reading Otaku Japan as a novel is not the best use of your time. Pick it up and choose the pieces that resonate with you the most, the ones that call to your geeky soul! As a guidebook for planning and implementing a vacation to the pivotal otaku country, it is crucial.
+ Gorgeous colorful pictures
+ Lots of geeky history
+ Amazing organization for listing shops and experiences
- Overall organization is good for travel tips, not for pleasure reading
- Lots of overtly and possibly sexual themes within experiences and shops (all culturally approved)
The Bottom Line
A must-have for hardcore otaku and people looking to work in Japan. Perfect guidebook for anyone visiting the country.