Hero for an Otaku Generation: A 2-Ch How-To

In 1999, as a bored exchange student at an Arkansas university, Hiroyuki Nishimura created Ni-Channeru, or “Channel 2″ what has in recent times become one of the most prolific forces on the Japanese internet.

The concept behind the bulletain board style interface is simple: anyone can post anything they want at any time, anonymously. The system itself is like an electronic renaissance, allowing users to input only text on a very simple background. However, some people, including Nishimura, claim that this outlet is exactly what Japanese people need – a way to say exactly what they want without facing any social repercussions. His critics, usually people who have been slandered in one forum or another, claim that Nishimura is irresponsible. Unless mandated by a court order, he generally takes nothing down, and certainly doesn’t waste his time policing such a massive forum for any reason.

Ni-channeru has nonetheless gained untold popularity both in Japan and abroad, and served as a massive creative engine for a generation constantly plugged in. User generated content fuels the site; even the splash page design was submitted from the community. The lack of input options such as “smileys” and .gifs has also spawned a legacy of Shift_JIS / ASCII art, and the characters that have emerged from these pages can be found immortalized in Japanese TV, cell phone kaomoji (emoticon) menus, and gachapon toys to name a few. Many people back-up threads of interest on personal servers for others to read, creating a sort of web-community history among users.

One of the more famous collections of such threads was published in October 2004, as Densha Otoko, or Train Man, under the pseudonym “Nakano Hitori” – a play on words meaning “one of the many.” Telling the story on a man who helps a woman being harassed by a drunkard on a train and their relationship that follows, the story did something to show the humbling sense of community and goodwill present in both Ni-channeru and otaku culture. In 2005, it was transformed into both cinematic and TV drama adaptations. About this time the next big wave of otaku hit the streets of Akihabara and maid cafes spread like wildfire – due to the prominent placement of maid cafe Pinafore in the Densha Otoko televised drama.

However, despite all of the hubbub, Nishimura maintains his slacker lifestyle accented with a nonchalant display of both hubris and self-degradation. Mainly hubris. He encourages fans to “go get a job working at a company or something – you’re never going to be able to achieve what I have.” Though he pays for the servers that host this mega-bbs, he is the only paid member of the staff – making a reported million yen (about $950,000) annually.

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Though a bit orientalist in presentation, a recent article in Wired Magazine does a pretty good job outlining Nishimura’s character, his rise to fame, and the invention of Niconico Douga, a mesh of You-tube and Ni-channeru that allows users to stream comments over videos uploaded and often created by the community. My criticism is that not all of Japan is Tokyo – the most prominent portrait painted of Japanese culture both in this article and most of academia. The author, a native Tokyoite now living in LA, has garnered the most extreme side of Japanese culture as a career for some time now, which is also evident in her style and verbiage.

In my own defense, (haha – what are you doing pandering in wonderland!) I’ll readily admit that these trends are not mainstream and generally viewed as weird or dangerous by a vast majority of people in Japan. However, they have enough of a following to maintain momentum, and get more and more media coverage everyday, both disbanding and creating myths to make these pastimes and cultural pockets more acceptable to the general public. This goes not only for things “otaku” – but most all cultural subsets based in Tokyo. One of the most awesome things about capitalism is the bizarre extremes in which it pushes people, and Tokyo is a good illustration of those extremities. However, to the people living in Tokyo, especially those residing in one of the aforementioned extremities, this isn’t weird, it’s just life. I think this side is often forgotten when people analyze things different from the angle that they are psychotic, as opposed to the psychological elements that create such dispositions.

Of course, this doesn’t do well in terms of marketing.

3 Comments

  1. scott said,

    June 30, 2008 at 10:58 am

    my big shock coming to japan was that otaku was a word that carried negative connotations. in america, i had learned the word and had the image of it being a cool term for a “nerd” kind of like the geek renissance going on now in the states. to meet japanese people and actually hear their take was surprising. (p.s. thanks for explaining ni-channel i hear it all the time but didn’t know what it was exactly)

  2. admin said,

    June 30, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    it depends who you ask, but the older generation certainly get a bad taste in their mouth at the mention of “otaku.” and really, you were just asking where they lived.

    lol.

    but jokes aside, miyazaki tsutomu is usually considered responsible for the negative connotations associated with the term otaku.

  3. batsu3 » Blog Archive » Zero Points of Articulation - A Moving Prospect said,

    July 11, 2008 at 4:45 am

    [...] the the Yostuba&! manga, her decidedly “moe” characteristics are the topic of a few 2ch discussion threads. Along with the Fuka bikini edition figure, it will be available September 1. [...]

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