Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan: A Labelling Approach

Course Type: Seminar
Study Focus: SEG, VMC
Term: Fall

Teacher: Björn-Ole KAMM

Course Code: JK26001

With the spread of manga and anime around the world, many have adopted the Japanese term ‘otaku’ to identify fans of such media. This course questions , however, the naturalization of ‘otaku’ by examining the historical contingency of the term.


The connection to manga and anime may seem straightforward, but, when taken for granted, often serves to obscure the debates within and around media fandom in Japan.
This course questions the naturalization and trivialization of ‘otaku’ by examining the historical contingency of the term as a way to identify and contain problematic youth, consumers and fan cultures in Japan. It explores key moments in the evolving discourse of ‘otaku’ in Japan. Rather than presenting a smooth, triumphant narrative of the transition of a subculture to the mainstream, the course repositions ‘otaku’ in specific historical, social and economic contexts, providing new insights into the significance of the ‘otaku’
phenomenon in Japan and the world and offering a new perspective in form of theories of labelling.


Course Information

Module: Research 1-3
CATS Requirements: BA 3rd. year or above
Link to course material on CATS eLearning.

Day/Period: Wed/3
Location: TBA
Credits: 2


Course Goals

By going back to original Japanese documents and translated key contributions by Japanese scholars and seeking sustained analysis of these documents and scholars, the course provides students with alternative
histories of and approaches to ‘otaku’. In regard to contemporary Japan and the history of Japanese fan and consumer cultures, this course will be a foundation for understanding how ‘otaku’, at different places and times and to different people, is meaningful. As a new perspective for ‘otaku studies,’ students will learn the theoretical foundations and methodological application of a modified labelling approach. Lastly, they will practice the writing of book reviews.

Course Schedule and Evaluation

For a detailed course schedule, please visit KULASIS or the CATS eLearning platform (the enrollment key is provided in KULASIS and also during the first week of class).

All students: Readings and presentation (60%), essays (20%), active participation (20%).
BA students: Book review (counting 30% of the overall grade). For a full seminar (8 ECTS): Book review plus in-depth review of one chapter (counting 30% of the overall grade).