May 17th saw a group of demonstrators in Akihabara, the otaku capital of Japan, rallying against the presence of foreigners living in Japan. Declaring that foreigners are “criminals” and should leave the country, as well as targeting international non-profit organizations in Japan, this hate speech was countered by another group who, in a show of camaraderie with the foreigners in Japan, declared that “otaku have no borders.”
Akihabara is no stranger to public displays nor traumatic events. In 2008, Tomohiro Kato killed seven people and injured 10 others in a violent rampage in broad daylight, which resulted in heightened security and a tenser atmosphere in Akihabara until 2011. At the time, criticism arose that the sense of isolation often associated with “otaku behavior” might be having a negative influence on Japanese society.
Although the anti-foreigner demonstration did not appear to have any specific ties to anime and manga fans, it is rather notable that the counter-protest was specifically under the banner of otaku against racism in Japan. While being an otaku does not automatically mean that one is a strong believer in cultural diversity, it does potentially speak to some of the values that underline Akihabara, especially as it has become internationally famous as a spiritual home for geeks and fans of Japanese popular culture over the past 15 to 20 years. It’s as if, by putting their self-identities as otaku at the forefront of the counter-protest, the otaku protesters were declaring that Akihabara is no place for close-minded racism, while also striving to show that being an otaku does not necessarily mean isolation from society.
More pictures of the counter-protest can be seen courtesy of Natsuki Kimura.