The Otaku Encyclopedia by Patrick W. Galbraith (a J!-ENT Book Review)

June 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Otaku Encyclopedia” is a very enjoyable, well-researched and well-written encyclopedia crafted for the otaku in mind.  Definitely recommended!

TITLE: The Otaku Encyclopedia

BY: Patrick W. Galbraith



RELEASED: October 1, 2009

Otaku: Nerd; geek or fanboy. Originates from a polite second-person pronoun meaning “your home” in Japanese. Since the 1980s it’s been used to refer to people who are really into Japanese pop-culture, such as anime, manga, and videogames. A whole generation, previously marginalized with labels such as geek and nerd, are now calling themselves otaku with pride.

The Otaku Encyclopedia offers fascinating insight into the subculture of Cool Japan. With over 600 entries, including common expressions, people, places, and moments of otaku history, this is the essential A to Z of facts every Japanese pop-culture fan needs to know. Author Patrick W. Galbraith has spent several years researching deep into the otaku heartland and his intimate knowledge of the subject gives the reader an insider’s guide to words such as moé, doujinshi, cosplay and maid cafés. In-depth interviews with such key players as Takashi Murakami, otaku expert Okada Toshio, and J-pop idol Shoko Nakagawa are interspersed with the entries, offering an even more penetrating look into the often misunderstood world of otaku. Dozens of lively, colorful images–from portraits of the interview subjects to manga illustrations, film stills and photos of places mentioned in the text–pop up throughout the book, making The Otaku Encyclopedia as entertaining to read as it is informative.

Back in the ’90s, a lot of us would learn Japanese slang from Todd & Erika Geers “Making Out in Japanese” or purchasing Kodansha’s awesome Romanized Japanese-English Dictionary.

For those of us into Japanese culture, we had issues of “Mangajin” to help us learn Japanese and translating manga, anime and even Japanese music was a common thing for us into Japanese pop culture.

Fast forward to 2011 and times have changed a lot.  Manga and anime are easily available through legit and non-legit means, you can find Japanese translated lyrics quite easily and with the Internet, people are even more closely connected to Japan.  To the point where Akihabara and forums like 2Chan are easily integrating slang to not just otaku’s regular day lexicon but also many fans abroad.

Talk to fans today, may it be going to a convention and them saying I want to “glomp” that cosplayer or interviewing the Queen of Akihabara Haruko Momoi and she keeps dropping words like “moe” during the interview to a guy asking me if I like “tsundere” characters and I do remember a time when me and my staff member were asked to be in a picture and she jokingly said, do a “yaoi” pose.  Uh, excuse me?

There are just a lot of slang that people are using, especially for those engaged in otaku culture and you can go to a site like Danny Choo’s “Culture Japan” and he will be using a lot of wording that many fans will just understand with glee but for those of us who had to study formal Japanese, we are left scratching our head and wondering, “what the hell is everyone talking about?”.

Granted, in Japan, there is a lot of slang…from the people at Shibuya, to the yankii girl (gangster tough girls) of wherever, there are words from Japan’s subculture that you’re not going to find in “Making Out in Japanese” nor a Japanese dictionary.

Fortunately, Patrick W. Galbraith has written “The Otaku Encyclopedia”, an insider’s guide to the subculture of Cool Japan.

The book is very useful to the otaku who are interested in learning words, terms, companies, areas and more.

For example, on the first page alone, people can learn the word “akanbe”, a common thing that people see in anime or drama when a person makes a gesture by pulling down one lower eyelid and sticking out their tongue.  I for one have seen this many times but never had a word for it.  But now I know.

I have always wondered how the word “Moe” became to be used a lot in the past few years and sure enough, Galbraith goes to length on the term and where the word was derived from.

But let’s say that you want to know what a Vocaloid is?  You have heard people make comments about “hentai” and “eroge” and want to know what that is all about?  Want to know who this popular company known as “Good Smile Company” is all about?  Or heard from a person that he is investing on a Gundam garage kit?  You can find it on this book.

But for many people, encyclopedias with terms may not be for everyone, so Galbraith also adds another enticing factor to this book…interviews.

Throughout “The Otaku Encyclopedia”, you can find books with people who are knowledgeable about Akihabara, a few professionals who work in the anime industry, a professional who created Comiket, another professional who makes figures, cosplays professionally, a professional gamer, professional maid at a cafe, a true life otaku and an interview with a popular talent/singer.  There are a good number of cool interviews throughout this book and also gives us an idea of the concept of otaku.

The Otaku Encyclopedia” is a wonderful resource for otaku!

And reading this book, especially the foreword and what Galbraith learned while interviewing various individuals for this book, he got to see different perspectives towards otaku culture.

Bare in mind, while “otaku” may be used quite frequently outside of Japan, in Japan, it’s a different story as there are people who still frown upon it, while there are people like Galbraith and many others who celebrate otaku and their love for Japanese pop culture.  I’ve been featured in various publications in Japan as a Japanese music otaku and I don’t know if I’ve gotten used to the term.

But the fact is, the more friends and associates that I have in the anime industry, manga industry and various areas of Japanese pop culture, I have grown fond of them and their work and the people who appreciate their work and I noticed certain terminology often used in anime and manga but also with the fandom.

And there are a lot of things that have went on in Japanese pop culture in the past 25-years and more that are explored in Galbraith’s book and for me that is what I found intriguing.  This is not some guy who just popped out of nowhere and is writing a book, Patrick W. Galbraith is also a well-known journalist in Japan for English speakers through Metropolis magazine and runs the website.  He has researched pop culture and otaku culture and this research is part of his life and what he enjoys covering.

I have no doubt in my mind that people can definitely learn a lot from this book and it definitely helps in learning the various otaku-based slang but also common terminology if you do participate in anime, manga, Japanese figures, etc. type forums or websites and talk with people at conventions and surely, know what everyone is talking about.

With that being said, for those who are new to Japanese culture and are learning to speak or write in Japanese, using these words are good with using among your peers but I still recommend learning Japanese through school, online training or software-based because even for myself, learning Japanese slang from dramas and anime, during the beginning of my career of interviewing Japanese celebrities, I have used slang accidentally with a well-known Japanese talent in the industry and it was taken as an insult but was quickly remedied when we had a conversation of where Americans were picking up these non-PC words. So, it’s good to know when to use polite words and slang words and I do recommend for those learning Japanese, to learn it the best way you can and if you could, interact with fluent Japanese speakers and also have Japanese friends to expand your appreciation of Japanese culture, including the pop culture.

“The Otaku Encyclopedia” is a very enjoyable, well-written and well-researched encyclopedia crafted for the otaku in mind.  Does it have everything?  I guess that would be subjective to the reader but for me, there is a lot of terminology and things that easily are well-selected for the anime, manga, video game and hobbyist.  It’s really well-done!

I can only hope that Galbraith continues to update this encyclopedia with the latest slang (even removing slang that has gone out of style) but if you are an anime fan, manga fan, Japanese video game fan or happen to be a person who has nendoroids, dollfies or Japanese figures in your room, etc.  This one is for you!

Definitely recommended!