Still says they’re “abnormal” in their passion, though.

Earlier this month, Japanese publisher Iwanami Shoten released the seventh edition of its widely used and influential Japanese-language dictionary, Kojien. Since language evolves in reaction to social developments and trends, the seventh-edition Kojien includes both new words and refined definitions for pre-existing entries, but the updating process hasn’t been entirely smooth.

First, Iwanami Shoten was criticized for the incomplete nature of its definition for the term “LGBT.” Now, it’s hard-core fans of anime, video games, and other hobbies who’re steamed about what they feel is Kojien’s derogatory definition for the word “otaku.”

The seventh-edition Kojien’s entry reads:

1. A respectful way of referring to the home of the person being spoken to
2. A respectful way f referring to the husband of the person being spoken to
3. A respectful way of referring to the person or people being spoken to
4. (often written in katakana) a person with abnormal enthusiasm about a specific field or thing, but with limited interest in other matters that causes distant or aloof relations with broader society. Also commonly used to refer to a person excessively absorbed in a specific hobby.

While the stereotypical image of otaku has long been of a socially crippled loner who can’t go five minutes without talking about his favorite anime character, many would argue that’s no longer the case. There’s even a whole subset of the otaku demographic who’re called “reality-based otaku” or “real-ju otaku” within the community, in recognition of their ability to form social links and participate in activities even without a connection to 2-D fantasy worlds. And even for otaku who aren’t particularly outgoing or skilled at conversation, having their level of passion labeled “abnormal” must sting.

Still, it could have been worse. The “otaku” entry in Kojien’s sixth edition was even harsher. While the first three points were the same, the fourth definition was:

4. (often written in katakana) a person interested in only a specific field or thing, with an abnormal level of knowledge about it, but lacking common social intelligence. So called because of their tendency to refer to other such individuals with the pronoun “otaku.”

So at least the dictionary is no longer saying that if you’re an otaku, you’re lacking in some sort of basic human knowledge.

In all fairness, a full decade passed between the release of Kojien’s sixth and seventh editions, and in that time, a lot has changed in the way otaku are perceived by society, and arguably in the way they actually interact with the rest of society as well. Social media and fan events have allowed hard-core enthusiasts to connect and/or rub shoulders with others who share their interests, even if not with the same intensity. Otaku-centric Akihabara’s organic transformation into a Tokyo sightseeing destination has shown that even if they don’t want to live the otaku life themselves, a large swath of the population thinks it’s fun enough to dip their toes into now and again.

“Otaku’s” linguistic arc has been similar to that of “geek” in English, starting off as a pure pejorative before evolving into also being a mark of facetious or self-conscious pride. With that background, you can’t entirely blame Iwanami Shoten for continuing to include some of the historically negative connotations of the word, but with more and more people identifying themselves as otaku, odds are we’ll see an even less critical definition when it’s time for the dictionary’s eighth edition.

Source: Hachima Kiko, Twitter/@nankagun
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where his abnormal enthusiasm for taiyaki has him wondering if that makes him a “taiyaki otaku.”