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The Asian ApertureOtaku Encounter of the Osaka Kind
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, February 20, 2011    Share

Back in 2000, when the whole world just entered the 21st Century, I had an experience that I thought would be strange. I was in my late 20's and working for the biggest of the three English Conversation schools called Nova. If you are in Japan, don't look for Nova as they went bankrupt in 2007 when President Nozomu Sahashi stole money and tried to run away. He is currently in prison. Anyway, one of my co-workers was a fellow anime fan and recommended going to Animate. I was on my way to Otaku paradise.

I took a train from Toyonaka Station, where my Nova branch was located, to nearby Ishibashi Station. I got off and went to look for the big Animate building. I had been to several other Animate stores in different parts of Osaka and a really nice one in Kyoto, so I knew what to expect. Still, I wander around like a tourist until I found the building.

Going inside I was bombarded by all the stuff inside. Animate caters to what is new and current for anime and manga. Instead of waiting for an American distribution company to create a dub version and localize a series for the U.S. market, you can buy the DVD. However, the DVD will probably not have English subtitles, which is fine for me. Sometimes language gets in the way of enjoying anime. You just need to learn to relax, not worry about what is being said, and take in quality animation. The store had a long wall of DVD titles including series like One Piece, Turn A Gundam, and even some live action stuff like the old 60's Ultraman DVD boxset, one of the few retro items available. I was very impressed with all the current titles on display and then I moved on to manga.

Shiny new manga books were lined up for viewing pleasures. I was interested in Vagabound by Takehiko Inoue and picked up a couple of volumes. Vagabound is a manga about the unbeaten samurai, Miyamoto Musashi. This was rare for me because I generally buy used manga at second hand stores because I am more interested in what is retro.

Besides the usual DVDs, and anime, there were also keychains in the shape of anime characters. A popular thing to do is to buy several keychains of your favorite characters and attach them to your bookbag. I used to have the spaceship Phoenix from Battle of the Planets dangling from my bookbag.
Animate also has toys, and anything you can possible want for current pop culture goods.

Browsing the DVD titles, I noticed someone behind me, I was looking at the Gundam titles to satisfy my love of giant robots. Finally in a quiet voice, almost a whisper, he was talking to me. I was surprised when I first met Kenzo, that he was speaking to me in English. I later learned that he worked as a translator. I never had a problem understanding him. Looking at the DVD titles, Kenzo started talking about all things Gundam. Then I did the unthinkable and asked him if he was an Otaku. (Otaku is a bad word in Japan that shows social inept people who seldom marry. I was warned before going to Japan to not refer to myself or anyway as an otaku.) I probably shouldn't have been so direct but the direct approach worked best. Kenzo admitted to being an otaku and went into a long lecture about how otaku are misunderstand in Japan because of the harsh criticism from the Japanese media. I learned that being an otaku is really not that much different from being a fanboy.

Kenzo also told me that his friend recently got married and had a Sailor Moon themed Wedding. All participants had to dress up as Sailor Moon characters. This shattered another stereotype because otaku can get married, it just takes awhile to find someone. As I remember, the bride's family was not happy at all. I really wanted to see photos from that wedding.

Anyway, Kenzo and I quickly became friends and he wanted to take me for a drive. I jumped at the chance because I was so used to public transportation and being forced to only shop at shopping areas near train stations that I really needed to see a bigger part of Osaka.

I hopped on the back of his bike and we rode to his nearby apartment. Then we got into his car. I forget the make but it was a Toyota, either a Corolla or Camry.

Sitting inside the car, we were off to hit the town on a Friday night. Kenzo was not the creepy weirdo of otaku legend. He was not sitting inside his apartment, refusing to go out, and ordering everything from mail order. Kenzo was sociable and extremely knowledgeable about past and current pop culture.

The first stop was a ramen shop. The best place for Otaku eating. This wasn't the cheap Top Ramen found in the U.S. This was the real thing. An entire menu had all different types of ramen with different soup broths to choose from. You could also pick what meats or vegetables you wanted. I was fascinated by the full range of variety that is sadly missing in America.

Next it was back inside Kenzo's car, that was equipped with GPS, and we headed to some of his favorite local haunts.

First up was Book Off, a used bookstore that I had previously been to. When I told Kenzo that I had already been to several Book Offs he counted with, “Yes, but you haven't been to one this far from any train station.” Good point and well taken. There are indeed differences even in the same stores because of different locations. The stores near stations are generally tourist friendly and lack the weird, offensive or raunchiness of stores further out in the city.

Glancing around, I was amazed at all the old American goods that were being sold. I picked up an old old VHS copy of D.C. Cab with Mr. T and a idol photobook featuring the hot bikini model from the Georgia Coffee ads from the mid-90's, Naoko Iijima. She will always be the lovely Georgia girl to me. The photobook was going for 500 yen used. I had seen it in Den Den Town for around 5000. This was a steal as I quickly snatched it up. Kenzo was off in his own world. This is the way it should be. As fans we all have our own unique tastes. I always try to pick friends who go their separate ways inside the comic book store and reconvene later. You can talk about what you saw and picked up later on during the car ride or even better as a discussion topic inside a restaurant.

We got inside the car, Kenzo and I discussed life in Osaka, work, women we thought were hot, and the usual topics. The evening sky was light up everywhere by beautiful neon lights.

Next up was a small indies store that Kenzo liked. I don't really remember this store too well. They did have a lot of used games for the Sega Dreamcast, and Sony Playstaton. I don't recall seeing any cool anime goods that stood out.

After that it was time to head home. Kenzo offered to drive me back to my apartment. This was great because I wasn't looking forward to riding the trains tonight.

We had the most otaku conversation on the way back. We talked about what Japanese girls like and didn't like and how to have better success. I never know how to give my address to my apartment so I headed Kenzo my Gaijin ID card, and he typed the address into his GPS system. Then we were off.

We got back my apartment and had our goodbyes and that was it. If you took away the exotic Japanese setting, it was no different then getting together with friends to go to a comic bookstore or sci fi hobby shop. I learned a lot about the otaku and how misinformed the Japanese media really is.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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