At first glance, there's not much to distinguish Koota Umeda from the millions of other Japanese salarymen. When we meet for a beer in a Tokyo bar, the personable 23-year-old is wearing a smart new suit and presents his business card with impeccable manners (he works for a major Japanese tech company). But the unfashionable side part in his hair hints at secret proclivities. The proof comes when he whips out his digicam to show me photos of his enormous, meticulously organized collection of manga, which he keeps in his bedroom at his parents' house.
Umeda is a self-confessed otaku, one of Japan's growing legion of men obsessed with anime, comics, action figures, and videogames.
I ask Umeda if he has a girlfriend; he concedes that he doesn't, though many of his otaku friends do. But he's certainly benefiting from otaku's new cultural cachet. When Umeda got his first job after college, he kept mum about his life outside the office. Before long, however, he discovered that his boss was also an otaku. "Now, if I want," he says with a grin, "I can get a day off to go to the comics convention."