As people with a passing familiarity with contemporary Japan are probably aware, “otaku” is the Japanese equivalent of “geek” or “nerd”, or maybe “obsessive fan”. It tends to be applied to people who like geeky things, like science fiction, anime, computer games, or roleplaying.
This morning the caretaker at our flats addressed me as “otaku”.
However, this is not as shocking as it sounds. The etymology of “otaku”, so I have heard, is that it derives from a very polite form of “you”, and is used because it’s the pronoun that otaku use when addressing women, because they get very nervous and haven’t the faintest idea what to say. Since she immediately followed it up with “anata”, which is a more familiar, and more common, form of you, I’m sure that is what she meant. It was an interesting experience, because I’d never heard “otaku” used to mean “you”, so I wasn’t sure about the purported etymology. Now, while I know it might still be a false etymology, it does at least sound more plausible.
Incidentally, one reason I’d never heard it is that it is very, very rare for Japanese people to use the second person pronoun. “Anata” is almost exclusively used from wives to husbands, for example. The reason the caretaker used it this morning is that she wanted to ask about whether I was eating properly, whereas I thought she was asking about Mayuki. I mean, obviously, Mayuki is the most important and interesting subject in the world; why would people ask about me. But apparently I look like I’m not eating enough or getting enough sleep. This may be because I’m not eating enough and not getting enough sleep. Possibly. Anyway, I bought a lot of chocolate for today to try to offset it.
Normally, Japanese people use the surname to specify who they are talking about, but obviously that wouldn’t work in this case, because Mayuki and I share our surname. It’s quite possible that the caretaker can’t remember my given name, so she had to use the second person. So, first she was very polite, and then she used the more common one, probably in case I wasn’t familiar with the polite use of “otaku”.
Talking of Mayuki, she’s fine. She was quite lively yesterday, although she had a long nap in the middle of the day. She has finally started eating her weaning food enthusiastically, after a few weeks of being rather ambivalent about the whole business, and both her lower front incisors are now visible in her gums, and one is starting to cut through. Last night in the bath she was standing up from sitting on my legs, so in the near future we expect her to start pulling herself up around the house. She’s also, finally, rolled over a couple of times. She still doesn’t do it much, but she’s proved that she can. Maybe she just doesn’t see the point.