2017/03/08 What's On
Den Den Town and the Mysteries of the Otaku Culture
by Ben Lindstrom-Ives
photo by http://osakalucci.jp/street-festa
It was an early Sunday morning in Nipponbashi, Osaka. The weather was fair, mild, warm, and echoes of spring could be felt in the air. After a rather long and chilly winter in Osaka and the Kansai region, the days have suddenly become longer and longer with more and more light visible in the sky. The sun is now emitting its rays at the earth at every increasingly higher and higher angles. Moreover, more and more people can be see coming to and fro throughout the urban streets of Nipponbashi.
Nipponbashi is located in the south-central region of the city known as Naniwa ward. This colorful neighborhood is home to an area known colloquially as Den Den Town. Den Den Town is often known as the Akhiabara of Osaka. (Akhiabara refers to the largest electronics and anime district of Tokyo.) Den Den Town has for a while become a haven and a popular refuge for the so called Otaku culture of Japanese society. Otaku by definition refers to young people who are obsessed with specific aspects of popular culture, often at the expense of their own social lives and developments.
One could probably safely say that somebody who is part of the Otaku culture may be categorized as a kind of escapee from life. Living this sort of highly unique and unusual lifestyle, provides a popular sort of venue in which the ‘alienated’ Japanese youth may be able to temporarily forget or ignore whichever problems or issues they may be facing in their life, and have a chance to escape to various worlds in which the distractions can be both powerful and compelling for them. Otaku also represents I think an active form of societal protest.
Otaku culture has now become well known around the world thanks in large part to the growing popularity of anime and manga. In that sense the Otaku lifestyle has become almost as famous as other well known youth subcultures such as the Punk, Hip Hop, Hippie, and gaming lifestyles which can be found in one form or another around the world. As with these movements, members of these subcultures may be viewed by society as living on the edge of mainstream culture. Arguably many of the most interesting artistic movements which have emerged in Japan and around the world over the last 40 something years or so, have spurred largely from these kinds of underground movements. Otaku subculture along with these other movements I mentioned, from my perspective represent specific kinds of protests and manifestations against what is considered to be ‘normal’ and decent by mainstream society. As said earlier Otaku similarly to these other subcultures I discussed, seem to have a tendency to attract the largely alienated Japanese youth, as it also in a sense gives the ‘voiceless’ a voice in which they can freely express their feelings and emotions. Every spring in Osaka, the streets are shut down in Den Den Town to make room for the annual Nipponbashi Street Fiesta. During this rather vivid and colorful time of the year, members of the Otaku community will come and march through the streets, dressed up and representing their favorite and legendary manga and anime characters. e.g. some participants may dress up as characters such as Sailor Moon, Gundam, ninjas, Astro Boy, and so many more!!! The participants in this festival participate in an important phenomenon in Otaku culture known as ‘Cosplay.’ Cosplay is a shortened form of the word costume play; to dress up as character of sorts for display or show.
Wandering through the streets of Den Den Town I saw many upon many Otaku inspired shops which sold everything from action figures, to records/cd’s, Anime costumes, laptops and computers, along with video games, TVs, DVDS, and many other kinds of electronic appliances.
One of the highlights of Den Den Town for me was paying a sort of unexpected pilgrimage/visit to the Super Potato shop. Super Potato is a true cornucopia and shrine to those who love and are familiar with the video gaming world. Outside the main entrance one can see a large size figure of Nintendo’s Mario, along with the protagonist Snake from Sony and Playstation’s legendary series Metal Gear Solid. As I entered the shop, I realized that this place essentially represented the entire history of video games! All of the consoles from Nintendo 64, to Playstation, X Box, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, up to the more recent Game systems such as Playstation 4s and Xbox ones could be found here. Many of the classic games such as Super Smash Brothers 64, Goldeneye, Resident Evil, Lara Croft Tomb Raider, and Grand Tourismo could be found here. Even though I do not play video games much any more, it was a fascinating sort of trip down memory lane. I remembered many of the classic games I used to play as a little boy such as Goldeneye, Super Smash Brothers 64, Mario Kart, amongst other titles. All in all, it was a rather fun and delightful visit to this great museum/shop of Video gaming legacy.
I also recommend a visit to the Yellow Submarine Shop. Yes I admit it is cool, because the mural of the shop and the name of the business is derived from the rock group the Beatles’ hit song Yellow Submarine from 1967. This place is a must visit for card collectors. For those who love and are familiar with games such as Yu’ gioh, Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, do not miss this place. What Super Potato does for video games, Yellow Submarine does for card games.
In the end Den Den Town was a pretty funky and unique part of Osaka. It is a must see place for those are are interested in collectibles, as well as anime and electronics culture in general. I hope and plan to go to the Nipponbashi Street Fiesta this March on the 19th!
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