Posted on 2020-03-01
The term "wotaku" is originally from the word "otaku". An otaku would have been someone that, more or less, is obsessed with anime culture and is the western equivalent of a basement dweller. Written as オタク, this was a word that fellow otaku would use amongst themselves online proclaiming their love for a series/character/game on 2chan or some other iteration of a message board or blog. Wotaku, written ヲタク, is someone who does that, but in current day. The shift from using "オ" (o) to ヲ (wo) was created to sound just like the original word. Since both are used in the same manner, one would have to look at the spelling to make sure what kind of person you are dealing with. Interestingly enough, ヲタク is now frequently shortened to ヲタ (wota). You will see it often in people's bios on twitter. In fact, people will proudly admit that they are Wotaku on social media in order to not only meet others like them, but let random passersby know that they are not to be questioned with when it comes to what they love. There are many incarnations of the use of this word with things like game wotaku, idol wotaku, light novel wotaku, figure wotaku, and more. Where does it come from though?
It's no surprise that the word "otaku" carries a heavy connotation with it. When you ask people in Japan what otaku means to them, most will say they imagine it to be someone from 10 years ago. They will tell you it's someone probably living with their parents, unemployed or barely clinging on to a small job, probably single, has bad acne, thick glasses, does not bathe often, and frequents Akihabara for anime and game goods. It carried a heavy connotation offline and could be considered something of an insult to call someone one a long time ago. While the word was popular online, people in real life started to use the word much to the horror and alarm of otaku. This lead to otaku feeling uncomfortable that someone who was not them, who did not post online constantly, nor love anime or manga, was claiming their word. Nowadays, because of this linguistic shift, you have people who will claim they are wotaku in order to distinguish themselves from other normal people who use the word otaku. Complicated, isn't it? Well, who are they trying to separate themselves from?
During the spelling shift, there is most likely someone who was into games/anime and something else like photography, idols, games, books, fashion, etc. It's odd to call yourself "photography crazed" or "photography obsessed" so what people would do is say they are a "photo-otaku" or a "camera-otaku". This made them seem as if they were some expert in photography while also letting people know that they were really passionate about it. Otaku, horrified at this, decided to change the word to wotaku in order to keep themselves separate. However, it still implied a tie to anime culture since the pronunciation does not change. Nothing is that simple nor does it stay that way as wotaku continued to evolve. This word has now become so commonplace, that idol fans and game fans in particular have picked up wotaku for themselves. But, wouldn't you know it? They don't want to be associated with the negative imagery that springs to mind under wotaku/otaku's connotation. So, they have changed it to be simply ヲタ (wota), losing the last katakana on the end.
Today in current Japan, "wotaku/wota" can refer to someone into games, idols (2D or 3D or both), seiyuu, BL/Fujoshi things, and anime predominantly. The word is still evolving so it is only a matter of time before someone mainstream begins to use it and thus the meaning shifts further towards normal people and hobbies. One thing is for sure, don't tell the current users that! Have we seen wotaku in anime? Well yes, actually we have. In fact, there is even a work coming that focuses solely on wotaku and we are happy to introduce it as well.
(image: wotakoi -wotaku anime, resource: honeysanime.com)