It may sound strange, but there are actually quite a few people who are hesitant to identify as someone who greatly enjoys Japanese language and culture. I myself have been one of them.
The fear comes from not wanting to be branded as something known as a weeb.
But before we get into exploring just what exactly a weeb is, we'll first have to visit one of my least favorite points in spacetime - my junior year of high school.
It was here that I had first enrolled in Japanese 101, and it was here that I was first accused of something that would later provoke my gun-shyness in proclaiming my love of all things Japan.
You see, for most teenage boys in upper-middle class New Jersey in 2006 - any mention of Japan really conjured only about three images.
Animation, pornography, and perhaps most importantly - animated pornography.
It would not be any stretch of the truth for me to claim that my peers at this time, would have been more familiar with animated pornography than they were with the events of the second world war. It was for this reason, that I should not have been surprised by the response at the lunch table when they discovered that I was among the group that would be taking the new Japanese class this year.
"Wow, you must really love anime porn."
This is precisely how, one can find themself in a position where they now need to defend their Japanese fandom.
And this attack in particular, is an incredibly challenging one to defend against. It quickly becomes a case of "methinks thou dost protest too much."
Anything you say to try and prove your innocence, will likely only dig your grave much deeper. Playing dumb is too easily detectable, and trying to form an evidence-based argument will only reveal that you know more about the subject than you'd like everyone to believe. It's a lose lose scenario, and to try and articulate the feeling of being caught in it, consider the fact that I'm again doing it to myself right now. So let's move on, since this part obviously doesn't apply to me.
Now at the time, the concept of the weeb was still forming. The term "weaboo" was already circulating in online forums, but had not yet really evolved into a mainstream kind of identity. To the untrained eye, the early weeb was indistinguishable from any other sort of fandom. The boundaries dividing geek subcultures were not as clearly defined as they are today.
It was for this reason that I was not too terribly concerned with one day being dubbed a weeb. The litany of social difficulties I experienced in high school were not in the least bit a result of me openly enjoying anything Japanese. In fact, the thought left my mind almost entirely for pretty much the next ten years. It wasn't until just before my move to Japan that the idea would resurface.
By then, the weeb landscape had evolved considerably.
As of right now, dictionary.com defines a weeb as;
a non-Japanese person who is so obsessed with Japanese culture that they wish they were actually Japanese.
They further go on to explain that;
Typical weeaboo/weeb behavior includes using Japanese words and phrases in everyday speech, declaring Japanese culture to be superior to one’s own, spending large amounts of money on anime and manga, and collecting more unusual Japan-made products like idol figures and body pillows.
But this is really the farthest end of the spectrum. You might be surprised to learn that very normal, non body pillow carrying weebs walk amongst you daily.
Thanks to the widespread adoption and subsequent normalization of meme culture - contemporary humor and irony has given permission for this new, kind of casual weeb to exist.
Furthermore, this entry-level weebdom has been uniting people of all cultures and backgrounds during an incredibly divisive time in American history.
But not everyone has been happy with the increasing popularity of the weekend weeb warrior. Which brings us to the second stop on our journey. My New York apartment in 2018.
You see, there are some who still view any level of weebness as a defect.
And such was the case with an individual I had been close with at the time.
As I had been growing more comfortable in own skin for probably the first and last time ever, I felt confident enough to suggest on one or two occasions that perhaps they might give One Punch Man or Attack on Titan a try.
These words were met with an expression that I could only describe as complete and utter revulsion. With a snarled lip and glaring eyes, they grimaced as they scolded me for having dared to even consider that such a thing was acceptable. To them, watching anime was obviously the hallmark of a perverse, disgusting lesser-than. Whatever their opinion of me prior to this was, no longer mattered. Having revealed my terrible secret, I was now branded as something less than human.
If this sounds dramatic, it's because it was. This was a person who had a genuine, seething hatred for those who enjoyed Japanese culture on a level beyond sushi.
Let's try to understand why.
The answer came in the weeks that followed. After it having been discovered that I was liking anime memes on instagram, I soon found myself being subjected to a tirade of insults. However, the most telling accolade that they had bestowed upon me was none other than, "incel."
That's right. The same term that's being used to describe young men who commit atrocities as a possible result of not being to find a romantic partner. In other words, they literally viewed anime as if it were some kind of a gateway drug to domestic terrorism.
So there I was, again feeling the suddenly all-too-familiar gut punch of being shamed for my interests nearly a decade after the lunch room.
Except this time it wasn't just a goof between the boys. This was someone who wanted more than anything in the world, for me to feel badly for being myself.
I decided then that the only solution to weeb shyness was to completely embrace it.
And what better way to do so than to complete the one-way pilgrimage that every young weeb dreams of.
So after less than a year from that day, I had procured a plane ticket that would take me to the third and final stop on our trip. My new home in Japan.
Now as I've stated already - attempting to prove that your love of Japan is more than just being a weeb will only result in further solidifying the world's view of you as a weeb.
Take this man into consideration.
Here we have a multi-platinum recording artist who learns Japanese, releases an entire album in Japanese, and marries a Japanese woman.
Surely such things are a testament to the fact that his relationship with Japan runs deeper than anime and matcha ice cream, right?
Not really. It just kind of makes you a try-hard weeb, which is probably what I am. I mean just look at the amount of effort I'm putting into this blog post that's essentially trying to prove that I don't just like Japan for cartoon breasts.
Now if I was a true blue, body pillow carrying weeb, would I be able to find refuge here, in the way that so many American weebs fantasize of? Is Japan any kinder to their own weebs than America is to its?
Let's look at some data.
It's estimated that roughly 20% of Japanese identify themselves as Otaku.
Now since I'm not going to link to any articles or studies, let's just assume that figure is fair for argument's sake.
Otaku is of course the Japanese term for people who are heavily into whatever it is that they're into. Usually this means anime or manga, but it could mean a number of other things as well. The closest English expression would probably be geek.
So for your average American who geeks out over Japanese stuff, it's actually pretty likely that you'll enjoy your time here. There's no shortage of people, places, and events that are ready, willing, and able to provide the Otaku experience that you were dreaming of.
The trouble arises when a true weeb's time in Japan extends beyond a few weeks.
Being a weeb is a great reason to visit Japan, but it's a terrible reason to live here. That's because even though you may make a lot of new friends based on your shared interests, you might find that the other 80% of Japanese culture is not particularly conducive to a weeb lifestyle.
You will need to navigate the work culture, you will need to learn the language beyond anime phrases, and you will need to be social in ways that are new to you.
This is why at this time, I can't honestly consider myself to be more than your average weeb.
I don't think I would have found this amount of success in both personal and professional relationships in Japan had I come here with the mindset of someone with true weeb expectations.
That being said, I think you probably have to be at least a little bit of a weeb to want to come here in the first place. So I really don't know.
So to try and answer it as a yes or no question, I don't think I would be able to convince myself or anyone else if I tried to definitively declare that no, I am not in fact a weeb in any way whatsoever.
But out of all the potentially dangerous hobbies and lifestyles that Japan has tempted me with, I find that becoming a shut-in otaku is low on my list of worries.
As for what's high on that list, that's going to have to be another story altogether.