I’m sure that many of our readers are acquainted with the Japanese word otaku and its assimilation into English. For those that aren’t, it is a special label given to people who are especially obsessed with what might be considered nerdy hobbies, particularly those related to Japanese anime and manga. In Japanese, it can refer to any person with an obsession, whether it be half-naked figurines or interior design, but it almost always carries the negative connotation of being obsessed to the point of anti-social behavior. In the Western world, however, being an otaku is a badge of honor for many. People who like Japanese manga, anime, and games will often self-identify as otaku and join together with others of like interests over the Internet and other social outlets.
For better or worse, this circle of online anime fanatics has adapted a small vocabulary of Japanese words, creating a sub-set of Internet slang that bridges the language gap between these two similar cultures. Japanese pop culture enthusiasts worldwide cling to words like baka, moe, hentai, and more. But is this particular aspect of otaku culture a healthy thing to have spread? For example, there’s also the potentially disillusioned concept of “mai waifu.”
When Japanese otaku take to the Internet with posts about a person that they have interest in (whether real or 2-D), they will often refer to them as “ore no yome,” which literally translates to “my wife.” Amazingly, this concept of referring to a fictional character as your very own betrothed is something that has carried over into the English-speaking fan base, though rather than use the Japanese term or translate it directly, they misspell the words to reflect the concept’s Japanese roots via pronunciation. The result is the perpetuation of this idea called “mai waifu.”
In the Western world, “mai waifu” most commonly refers to a fictional character of Japanese origin in whom one is both attracted to and emotionally invested in. The character comes to symbolize the person’s ideal partner and will often outshine any real-life relationship potentials. People claiming a waifu will openly confess their love of that character, enter into angry debates to defend said character’s honor, and in extreme cases own numerous images of the character in the form of posters, figurines, and body pillows for physical comfort.
Though, unlike in Japan where this attitude surrounding “ore no yome” extends to real life people as well as characters, when “mai waifu” is used in reference to an actual person, it is more often used as a playful pet name between close friends or actual partners. It’s somewhat rare to see “mai waifu” used in conjunction with music idols, television personalities, or other living people.
So what other Japanese words have Western otaku assimilated into their everyday vernacular? Here’s a short list and their definitions, just to name a few:
Baka – idiot
Bishonen/bishojo – beautiful boy/girl
Dojin – fan-made item
Fujoshi – female fan of homoerotic material
Kawaii – cute
Hentai – porn
Moe – attractive for being cute and innocent
Tsundere – acting gruff and abrasive to hide one’s attraction
Yaoi – homoerotic porn
Now, there are some Japanese people who express concerns over the adoption and usage of these particular words. Some say “mai waifu” could be seen as a mockery of Japanese pronunciation, rather than a show of respect towards Japan’s otaku culture. Others question whether the otaku aspects of their culture are really the things that Japan wants to be remembered for in the first place. After all, most of the terms listed above are things that you wouldn’t want to Google without turning on the safe search function, a fact that doesn’t exactly speak well for Japan’s moral character.
Nevertheless, with projects like Cool Japan still in action, Japanese manga, anime, and their associated sub-cultures will continue to spread throughout the world, hopefully inspiring the pursuit of further knowledge in some of the more widely accepted aspects of Japanese culture.