Anyone who has ever attended a high-school or college sports game in Japan or Korea has seen the choreographed group cheers that they do. If you are the only one who doesn’t know how the dance goes, you might feel a bit out of the loop. Visiting a J-pop idol’s concert is quite a similar experience because of the ‘wotagei’ cheer dances that are done by otaku concert goers. What is a Japanese otaku? And what about these wotagei dances that they do?
What is an Otaku?
Otaku are people with a strong interest in a particular subject and love consuming things and experiences related to this interest. In English, you might call an otaku a ‘nerd’ or a ‘fan’, but it is a little more nuanced and specific in Japan. There are many types of otaku, and most of them are into a specific type of manga, anime, or game. J-pop idols are also a common subject of otaku love. But it can also be about something completely different, like trains, a specific country, a type of plant, or even manhole covers. For almost everything, there is a group of devoted otaku.
While there used to be a social stigma surrounding otaku, nowadays, almost half of the Japanese youth identifies as an otaku. The stereotype is that otaku are socially awkward and sometimes even anti-social, but this is definitely not always true. Many of them might not be into mainstream stuff, but amongst each other, they find a community and social support. Most otaku also grow out of their hobby as they get older. Although there are of course also many who stick with their fandom for life. In modern-day Japan, there is thankfully not too much shame in that anymore.
The Basics of Wotagei Dance
As mentioned before, J-pop idols often have a (large) otaku following. Their fans tend to be so devoted that they attend concerts multiple times per year and are involved in a fan club. Girl groups like AKB48 tend to have the most loyal following of mainly male fans. So it is at their concerts that you are most likely to see wotagei dance carried out. The coordinated group dance has likely evolved from the aforementioned cheer dances that are done at school sports games. At games, the dances give the audience the feeling that they are 1 group. And at concerts, fans can show their love and support to their idol this way.
The dances tend to be simple, no complex movements are involved as everyone needs to be able to do them. Complexity can be compared to aerobic dance moves, as long as you’ve practiced them a few times you will be good to go. So that is what good fans do, they practice the dance moves at home with YouTube videos or dedicated blogs. This way, they can happily participate when it’s concert time.
There are a few elements of the dance, which are simple movements, claps, and shouts. Another very important element is a colored light stick that you can buy in any 100 yen shop or at the event itself. These light sticks are called ‘cyalume’ in Japan. If you are a fan of a particular idol, she will usually have her own designated color. By choosing a light stick with her color, you can show her your love in a very clear way. The light sticks are shaken to the rhythm of the music and create a magical sight together, especially during large concerts.
Types of Wotagei Dance
There are several wotagei dance choreographies, and some of them are very common. These routines are called ‘waza’. If you want to look like an ‘Akihabara native’, it is a great idea to learn the Romance and the Thunder Snake waza. These are the most popular waza in Japan, and are a part of the basic waza group.
Once you have gotten used to the basic waza you can level up your skills by learning so-called torch waza as well. Torch waza see you make circles with your left and right arm at different speeds. This makes torch waza much more difficult than basic waza. But if you really want to show your fellow fans and the idols your devotion, learning this is a good way to do so!
Where Can I Do Wotagei?
Did you get enthusiastic while reading this? We have to be a bit honest and tell you that Wotagei is pretty underground and that the fan base is shrinking in the 2020s. But if you still want to put your skills out there after practicing in your room for hours, the best way to do so is to attend an AKB48 concert. In order to do this, you need to go to the Donki store in Akihabara and buy a ticket on the ground floor. You can then proceed to the 8th floor where the magic happens. This is the official website of the AKB48 theater.
Sometimes you can see teenagers dance wotagei in small groups in Tokyo in the evening, although you have to be lucky to run into them. But if you see kids doing simple dances with colorful light sticks in parks at some point, then you will now know what they are doing!
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