Are Weeaboos Misunderstood?

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Photo by Japanexperterna

As most probably already know, the wonderful and terrible thing about the internet is that there is an insurmountable quantity of not only information, but also opinions and biases, just like any culture.

What some may not know is that in some deeper corners of the internet, people who are genuinely interested in Japanese culture are often mocked and ridiculed because of a stereotype that has been increasingly warping over the past 20 or so years.

In Japanese culture, a person who is very interested in a particular subject is referred to as an “otaku”. Otaku does not have an inherently bad meaning, as there are all sorts of people who focus on one particular thing they just can’t get enough of, ranging from trains and electronics to models, puzzles, anime and more.

in Japan there has been a less than positive reputation for the likes of otakus

However, in Japan there has been a less than positive reputation for the likes of otakus of anime, manga and otherwise manga-esque figurines. They are oftentimes considered socially inept, reclusive individuals that cannot accept reality and thus indulge themselves in fake worlds (let’s be clear that this is again, a stereotype.)

This stereotype has pervaded western countries as well, but it goes much deeper and much more unbalanced than having a poor opinion of someone just because they like anime and manga. In many places on the internet, simply expressing an interest in Japanese culture inspires many to scream out an insult all too familiar to many of us: “weeaboo”.

This term originated from a webcomic called “The Perry Bible Fellowship” several years ago and eventually ended up replacing the term “wapanese”, the former term used for westerners (namely white people from which the w at the beginning of the word originated) who were interested in Japanese culture.

The original meaning of “weeaboo” was very similar to the term “otaku” except that it was specifically for those obsessed with Japanese culture in an unhealthy way. They were considered people that for all intents and purposes, seemed to think that everything about Japan was the best and had no weak points.

Its original purpose was to poke fun at those who had a warped obsession with Japanese culture, and became a commonplace term in many online forums. However, in more recent years the term has been warped meaning-wise even further, carrying along with it the negative connotations brought about by its predecessors.

Eventually, “weeaboo” became an insult to hurl at anyone who even mentioned anything knowledgeable about Japanese culture, from Japanese pronunciation to knowledge about traditions and festivals. With the original “unhealthily obsessed with Japan” meaning gone, it has become a relentless term still used to belittle those who have chosen to be knowledgeable about Japan.
So what should a person do when met with belittlement and discrimination for having expressed any sort of interest in Japanese culture? As with any problem that has come about because of ignorance, education is important.

It should be made known that interest in a particular culture is not in itself a bad thing—it is the unrealistic ideology that the culture is the best in every aspect and can do no wrong.

However, if your efforts to educate are still met with stinging insults and an unmoving air of ignorance, it is best to ignore these types from that point on. They either have no intention of changing their minds or are internet trolls whose only purpose is getting a rise out of you.

Have you ever been called the “W” word before just from expressing some kind of knowledge or interest in Japan? I would love to hear your personal experiences.

Topics:  

Musician, Japanese language and food lover.
  • Crystal Nelson says:

    But weeaboos are annoying as hell. They have mental illness. They have unhealthy obession with anything Japanese and top of that “think” they are Japanese, when ethnically they are not, and NEVER will be. They truly hate themselves. Which is sad.

    • Shantel Sandy says:

      I never been called one myself (yet). Though I assume there are many people like myself that maybe wrongly labeled. I myself like technology, shopping and cartoons and always have been. so seeing that there is innovative tech. good shopping and good quality entertainment my interest has been peaked. though I also see this in country’s like Dubai and Italy. I plan to visit all learning the languages would probably make the trips more enjoyable.

      I assume that people who are insensitive to the cultures are the real problem.

  • duburu says:

    I shalll call you KPOP!

  • Allison C. says:

    I’ve never heard of this word before… So no. I’ve never been called that.

  • It’s really simple guys, you can be over-obsessed with my little pony porn for all I care, just don’t be a dick or a prick to other people about it. That’s what separate weeaboos from other people.

  • Joshua Radick says:

    I can see where pros get confused in your case. You seem to have a preference for Japanese culture, but don’t necessarily think that it is superior.

  • Brendan Nguyen Khac says:

    I was called a Weeaboo by many people for having researched for explaining the difference between super sentai, kamen rider and other tokusatsu live action series. I was also known to be an analyst where they said i looked pretty serious when i watch anime, when i was actually trying to look at the art style.

  • Fynitie Lockheart says:

    I’d just been called a weeaboo in YouTube just by having Yachi (a character from Haikyuu Second Season) as my profile picture and by using the emoticons “XD” “:3” , and that person labelled me as a “weeb” I tried pointing that out I’m not a weeb, but , to no avail ): Apparently he/she claimed that I’m obsessed with anime/manga/figurines and stuff, but that’s not true, I am NOT obsessed with them, I love them and watch them a lot, but that does not mean I’m obsessed with them right? Because I am doing homework and studying and spending time with my friends and family a lot as well ): I was quite sad..

  • PoultryPot says:

    I’ve never been called a weeaboo (I tend to surround myself with like-minded or open-minded individuals), but I have seen plenty of instances online (and some IRL) where people have been labeled the word for merely expressing the slightest interest in anything remotely related to Japan–or anything eastern, for that matter.

    An example – mentioning the name of an anime/manga or a Japanese video game in a group discussion; eventually, the person will join a group discussion in which one of the members will notice that this person mentioned something that sounds Japanese and will call him/her a Weeaboo.

    I also see the word used as an insult towards another person more prevalently by people who are insecure about their own (Western) culture, and feel threatened and become defensive when the notion of anything Japanese or eastern is mentioned, thinking that it is vehemently challenging their own culture.

    I’m not exactly sure how old the word is now, but I first remember seeing it used in message boards as early as 2007. Back then, as you mentioned, the word was a replacement for Wapanese, but (quickly) over the years, the definition of Weeaboo has been misconstrued so much that it has become what you have also mentioned in your post.

    Ultimately, my questions now are:
    – How much longer before the word’s definition becomes so misconstrued and warped that it practically “has lost its meaning?”
    – In the future, who, at the end, will be qualified to be labeled the seemingly derogatory, bigotted term?
    – How long before the internet troll, who calls one of his/her co-workers a Weeaboo IRL, gets a raised eyebrow from said co-worker for mentioning some weird word, after that co-worker recommends the troll to have lunch at the new sushi restaurant across the street?

    Sorry for the long post. Just wanted to chime in.

  • Ami . says:

    i get called weaboo or weeb all the time yet i don’t care seen the fact that they are just jealous and try to hurt me with empty words.i like what i want and nothing will stop me from doing so

  • maulinator says:

    The problem with mocking and insulting stupid people (aside from the fact that insulting people is in general wrong) is that the idiots are idiots. They do not understand they are being idiots (kind of a self-referential thing in a way) and don’t think they are being mocked for being stupid, which just makes them angry. Look at the white supremists/racists in the US. they are clearly a hateful stupid bunch but when you mock them they just get angry.

  • Brodie Taylor says:

    But most weeaboos are teenagers who by nature are immature and don’t know better because they have limited experience of the world. We’ve all been teenagers once and many teenagers “try on” different cultures without knowing much about them. No one deserves relentless ridicule just because they enjoy dressing in cosplay on the weekends and have a 1D perception of Japan. Yes they should more respectful and take the time to learn more about the country they’re so quick to fetishize, but this hardly makes them bad people.

  • Madison Hamm says:

    Where I live, weeaboo pretty much translates to person who is trying to be or thinks they are japanese when they are not even close to being japanese in heritage. This word is somewhat synonymous in my area with the ever hated word, trans-ethnic(a term used for children ethnically confused because they’re adopted by a family that is not the same ethnicity. I.e, Chinese child adopted by someone who is not Chinese and so on.) trans-ethnic, however, has become a word that means someone who feels they were born into an ethnicity that is incorrect, such as a German girl who feels she is suppose to be japanese. That is where the words intertwine, at least in my area. So, while I find your article interesting and informative, I believe there are many ways people interpret the word weeaboo.

    • Rumi says:

      Sorry for late reply, but I think you would like to know something.
      Before anime culture became a big thing, the word otaku solely meant “you”, or ” your family”. In this case, the term “taku” interpreted as family. (Taku sounds more like a detouched house than an apartment house to me.) So your hypothesis is not exactly correct, but interesting.
      The reason why they are called otaku is, (I’m not sure now but when the word started to have that meaning) when they call other otaku people, they don’t call by their names or use a pronoun “anata” or “kimi” (both mean “you”) but instead, just use otaku. ie) Otaku wa Gundam no fan desuka? (Are you a Gundam fan?) I guess that people see their mental detouchedness to each other in the word. So it’s discriminatory for this reason.

      • Kyle Von Lanken says:

        Thanks for the comment Rumi, and I apologize for the late reply to your comment. To follow-up to your response, I am aware of the original meaning of “otaku” but my original point was not the original meaning of the word. I compared Japanese “otakus” (current day meaning of the word) and western “weeaboos” and established the fundamental differences, and to inform about the negative opinions about all of the above.

        Knowing that, I am confused as to why you said my hypothesis is correct — I have not posed a hypothesis in this article, so I am curious to know what you think I am hypothesizing?

        As far as word origins are concerned, I did talk about the history of “weeaboo” but not “otaku”, so thank you for pointing out that I missed that.

  • Brodie Taylor says:

    I thought “weeaboo” was term for someone who’s obsessed with anime to the point where they think they can speak Japanese and know all about Japanese culture, when in reality they can’t and don’t. I think it’s wrong to mock young “weeaboos” but I do see why it annoys some people because their understanding of Japan tends to be a little shallow and as a result they often stereotype the way Japanese people act/behave. If anime fans want to speak Japanese that’s fine but they should at least take it seriously enough to learn the correct pronunciation for words like “desu” and kawaii”, otherwise it gives off the vibe of cultural fetishization. That being said, pretty much any time someone is interested in another country they tend to typecast it in the beginning, and this is in no way unique to fans of Japan. It’s hard to know what a culture is truly like unless you’ve lived among it so of course you tend to idealize it when your experience of it is limited to what you see in pop culture. So while I can understand why some people cringe at weeaboos it’s just wrong to crucify a whole subculture of people for being passionate about something even if it is on a shallow basis.

  • Mikey says:

    Hey Kyle

    cool post man! good topic.

    I thought that otaku was always a slander in Japan. My understanding was that taku means house/home and the honourific o is somewhat sarcastic. As in the person spends so much time at home (doing whatever) that their home requires more respect … like a precursor to NEETs and hikikomori. NEET is a slander now, whaere as hikikomori are seen more as mentally ill … right?? thats what I thought anyway.

    Ive been called a weeaboo but I think what they were saying was “You dont like rugby! We like rugby! Arrrggghhhh different, different!!”. So I own it. If they wanna call me that, thats cool – Ill call them “meatheads” … because sports-otaku doents have the same zing ha ha

    sticks and stones

  • Michael F Jaume says:

    With the word weeaboo and its meaning , “A ‘unhealthy’ obsession with Japan” I know that some people can never understand what it is like to look outside of the norms that society has put forth and to really connect with another country and its culture and customs/beliefs as well as contributions to the arts and other areas of interest. Being a otaku/weeaboo is nothing to be ashamed of and so what if people want to supplement a different culture because they can’t connect with their own? I know that in the world that all nations have done some pretty messed up things but looking to the past is not the answer nor is putting down others who have broaden their minds. Just because you never got into anime, manga and everything in between doesn’t mean you have the right to criticize others. It may seem foreign and weird but I know that in the past Americans viewed anyone who was different like that and look at the nation now! Many other nations embrace differences and don’t put others down, but for those that do hey its on them. Obviously there is more to Japan than just anime and manga, just like there is more to the US than breast implants, obesity, burgers and chili cheese fries. I can say with pride that I am a Otaku/Weeaboo but I can also call myself a intelligent person, and much more. Trying to define me and others with labels brought on through lack of common courtesy and getting to know them is just stupid!

  • Astrobastien says:

    Your post is very true and I’m happy that someone talked about this.The only thing that one needs to know is,that if you like something,be proud of it.Some people would always be there trying to belittle you because of it,but remember,if you’re an Otaku,then never be disheartened,be proud of yourself.We ain’t what they think we are,there’s much more to us,and everyone doesn’t need to know that,but you do.

  • Emily_7 says:

    I can’t speak for how the term has been used and abused on the forums you mention, but as a long-term Japanaphile I have encountered the types who think that Japan can do not wrong, that somehow it’s enlightened beyond our pitiful Western morality. But the more I’ve studied Japan, I’ve learned that every thing that is magical and otherworldly about Japan, tender and beautiful and subtle, idea, custom, art, or internalized belief– there is a proportionately horrifying, messed-up thing too. Same for our culture, I’m sure. Basically, anyone who thinks that there’s a culture out there that is beyond reproach in every way has a deluded perception and isn’t truly learning about that culture in a respectful way. If that’s what a “weeaboo” is, then by all means, the term is appropriate.

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