~written by Patrick W. Galbraith
~photography by Androniki Christodoulou
A bit of an otaku myself, I was naturally interested in Otaku Spaces, written by Patrick W. Galbraith with photography by Androniki Christodoulou. I was very happy to be selected to receive a review copy of the book from the publisher Chin Music Press through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. I was also thrilled to be introduced to Chin Music Press. Originally established in Tokyo and now headquartered in Seattle, much of the publisher's catalog is devoted to Japan-related titles. Although I haven't read it yet, I know Galbraith as the author of The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider's Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan. And while I am not personally familiar with Christodoulou's work, she is an award-winning photographer who has recently been focusing on traditional and contemporary Japanese culture and on otaku culture in particular. Otaku Spaces seemed like it was in good hands and so I was excited to have the opportunity to read it.
While there have been plenty of books and articles exploring the otaku phenomenon, there has been a tendency, as Galbraith points out in the introduction of Otaku Spaces, to "talk about them but not to them." Otaku Spaces changes that by including profiles and in depth interviews with nineteen people, most of whom self-identify as otaku, in an attempt to challenge the stereotypes fostered by popular culture. Otaku Spaces begins with an excellent introduction that briefly examines the origin of otaku culture and the history of the term itself. The introduction is followed by a brief glossary before Otaku Spaces turns to the real showpiece of the book, "Otaku Interviews and Portraits." Each profile is accompanied by a photograph of the individual posing with their collection. The next sections are the photographs and profiles of "Otaku Places" such as Akihabara and Ōsu, interviews with "The Experts," and additional "Supplementary Material."
Galbraith and Christodoulou interview a wide variety of otaku, from those interested in underground paraphernalia to those interested in pop culture collectibles. Otaku are commonly associated with anime and manga, which are certainly well represented in Otaku Spaces, but they can frequently be involved in other subject areas as well. Stereotypically speaking, otaku are usually thought to be male, but there are plenty of female fans included in Otaku Spaces as well. I was surprised to discover that I was actually already knew of some of the otaku interviewed for Otaku Spaces, such as the cross-playing champion kickboxer Nagashima "Jienotsu" Yūichiro. But for every otaku I already knew there were four or five that I was meeting for the first time. Otaku Spaces provides a wonderful opportunity for them to share their knowledge of and passion for the things that they love, whether that be calculators or video games or just about anything else.
While many of the questions that Galbraith and Christodoulou ask the interviewees are tailored to their specific interests or collections, there are several questions that they make a point to ask each individual. These include questions like "Are you an otaku?," "Will you continue to collect in the future?," and "What is the difference between an otaku and a collector?" among others. The answers vary from person to person, emphasizing the fact that there is really no one type of otaku but that they are all experts in their own way. They may not always agree, but that is a valuable lesson in and of itself. The otaku in Otaku Spaces are real people with real lives, proving that there is more to otaku than just stereotypes. Otaku Spaces is an enlightening and engaging volume. It's also a very attractive book with full color photography and simple infographics. Otaku Spaces is easy to recommend to anyone interested in otaku specifically or in Japanese pop culture in general.