Akihabara's history and otaku subcultures
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Posted 5/9/14 , edited 5/10/14
Took the notes last nights in the hotel room. I normally don't have NHK World.

I saw a program on NHK World (English language Japanese TV news station run by NHK) where a reporter interviewed the man responsible for current and future planning of Akihabara. He took the reporter on a tour of Akihabara and talked about its history and various subcultures.

The following is a note of some of the major points.

Akihabara Electric District was born after WWII as foreign occupiers brought radio to Japan. The district sold radio and radio parts. In the 70s, the radio people got into computers and Akihabara became a computer and electronics district. The 90s saw the arrival of maid cafés as animation and games moved in.

Otakus, according to the planner, are defined as fanatic collectors. He divides otaku into 5 types:

1. Technology otaku- this is the original otaku in Akihabara, dealing with hardware of all types.

As computers came onto the scene, hardware and software became a clear divider.

2. Hardware otaku- hardware builders and collectors

3. Software otaku- software programmers and collectors

4. Media producer otaku- computers are used to produce art

5. Media consumer otaku- Mainly concerned with consuming and collecting media. The subgroup focusing on anime, maid cafés and such are called "Moe Kei Otaku"

The various subcultures split, evolve, and merge into one another. 3D collectible figures came out of games, and those who want to "become" one of those figures dress themselves up as one in cosplay. (Part of the tour took place in a high rise building where each floor caters to a different type of otaku. The figurines and the cosplay costumes were on the same floor. The planner then took the reporter to the basement of the same building where regular performances of idol groups are held and is being held. An idol group was dancing on a small stage in the front of fans.)

People go to the idol performances not only to enjoy themselves but to also feel a sense of community, the planner said. Celebrities are out of reach but idols aren't celebrities, he said. Fans can feel closer to them and identify with them. The revolving idol groups have their structure based on a hardware technological parallel. As groups such as AKB48 split and subgroups replace members, the members are like removable and interchangeable hardware parts that customize each group to each fan.

When asked about the latest trend in Akihabara, the planner said it's robotics. He said roughly 70% of Akihabara's products are already robots, since a robot is defined as anything that contains a computer, a sensor, and an actuator. An example is an air conditioner being sold on some storefronts there that detects the position of a hot person and directs the stream of cool air in the direction of that person. There are robot competitions, and classes for young children on building robots. Another new trend there is 3D printing.

To illustrate the ever-changing nature of Akihabara, the reporter went to the Shinto shrine just a few steps from Akihabara electric street. He held up a charm for protecting computers from data loss. The Shinto priest there explained that when cars were new there weren't charms for cars either but now that cars are commonplace the charms for driving are also common. People were concerned about data loss when their computers hanged. The new charms are responses to people's needs.

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