Shoko Nakagawa is a Japanese pop star, actress, illustrator and TV personality. She’s found mainstream success in Japan. She is also a proud otaku.
“I knew I was an otaku from a very early age,” Nakagawa recently told Kotaku via an email interview.
As a child, she says video games and manga taught her so much. I’ve learned so much from video games. “I think the fact that I played games since childhood that included various world mechanisms allowed my mind to become stronger and helped me develop a connection to real life,” she said. “Also, as a young girl, I learned so many words from reading manga, and that love of words turned into a love of knowledge.”
While Japan might be the land of anime, manga and video games, the country hasn’t always been accepting of its indigenous geek subculture. The Japanese media have often marginalized and negatively portrayed otaku. Otaku passions were not something most would readily admit, fearing that their hobbies and passions would be derided. Being an otaku was not a badge of honor.
“At the time, the world wasn’t so accepting of me voicing my love for anime and manga, but now I’m happy to say that Japan and the rest of the world have embraced otaku culture and people are encouraged to share their passion.”
Things have changed in part thanks to people like Nakagawa who have unabashedly embraced their otaku-ness. For Nakagawa, the proliferation of the internet has also created an environment in Japan that’s more accepting of geek culture.
“I think it’s become easier to express my feelings about what I like than it was ten years ago, thanks to the spread of the internet,” says Nakagawa. “One thing I find really interesting about this country is that you’ll see anime and manga titles as top trends on social media almost every day and there’s so much excitement about sharing otaku culture.”
In the past, Nakagawa has appeared on Japanese TV to explain otaku culture. On her Twitter, she gets fired up with new games get released and then plunges into playing them. “Otaku are really, really focused on what they like and I think it’s a wonderful way of living,” she says. And one of the things she really really likes is Pokémon.
Since 2007, she has voiced characters in the Pokémon movies and is a co-host on the live-action weekly variety show Pokémon no Uchi Atsumaru?!, the follow-up to Pokémon Sunday. For Nakagawa, she believes the appeal of Pokémon continues as time goes by, especially with the recent success of Pokémon Go. But the original game itself has a certain timeless quality. “You can enjoy the charm and cuteness of Pokémon as a child and you can also enjoy it as an adult with full force because in the game, you have to use your brain.”
Nakagawa has become an international ambassador of otaku culture. At next month’s Anime Expo in Los Angeles, she will be taking the stage during the Anisong World Matsuri and singing her heart out. “I was saved by anisong [songs in anime] when I was a child, so now I’m singing with love so that everyone that loves anisong can smile,” she says. “It’s amazing that everywhere you go in the world, people sing anisong in Japanese.”
Otaku culture started in Japan, but it’s now gone global. Anime, manga and Japanese video game characters are loved all around the world.
“Every era, wonderful anime production and characters come alive and people across the earth claim them and make them part of their own lives,” says Nakagawa. “I think that all that imagination—drawing, voice acting, anisong—is full of fun and positive power that we all can use to build our future.”
And make the world a betterーand geekierーplace.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.