Sunday, March 24, 2019

otome 乙女

WIP : this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, otome 乙女 means "maiden" or "damsel." Specially in the sense of a "pure maiden," as in, an innocent young girl, beacon of purity, who's probably the main heroine of a dokidoki-filled romance manga about her "first love," hatsukoi 初恋.

The miko 巫女, traditionally unmarried virgins who assist priests in shrines, are generally called "shrine maidens" in this sense.

The term otome can also refer to someone who features exuberant otome-like attributes: they look very feminine and very pure: they're shy, they've fallen in love with someone, they want to be confessed to, they fuss over love letters, they make the guy's bentou 弁当, "lunch-box," and bring it to school, and they want the guy to eat the lunch they made, just like a wife making a husband's lunch, and they want to eat lunch together, and all that extremely cliche stuff.

In the west, some anime fans use the term otome as if it meant a female otaku, a female hardcore anime fan. This happens because, in most anime, the stereotypical otaku is portrayed as a fat nerd guy, so it sounds like otaku can't be used towards girls, even though it can.

The term otome geemu 乙女ゲーム, or "otome game," or literally a "maiden game," are dating sim games and the sort targeted at women. Unlike your average dating sim where the protagonist is a guy surrounded by harem of girls, otome games have a female protagonist surrounded by a reverse-harem of guys. It's literally the same thing. This term is also abbreviated otomegee 乙女ゲー, or otogee 乙ゲー.

Maybe because of the above, the word otome is confused with female otaku.

A district in Japan, Ikebukuro 池袋, is also known as "otome road," otome roodo 乙女ロード, because of all the anime stuff targeted at girls that's sold there.

Some of these products are targeted at fujoshi, which refers specifically to a girl who fantasizes about guy-x-guy ships. Since such girls are often otaku too, shipping anime characters and buying BL doujinshi, even in Japan, where people speak Japanese, there are people who mistakenly think the term fujoshi means female otaku. It doesn't. They just happen to overlap a lot.

The kanji of the word otome 乙女 is a rather ancient prefix, oto- 乙~ which means "younger," and me 女 which means woman.

Long, long ago, like around before the 6th century, an adult young woman was called an otome おとめ, while a man would be called an otoko おとこ. Nowadays the words are spelled with kanji as otome 乙女 and otoko 男, so it's hard to see they share the same origin, but they do.

The memorpheme, which means "woman," may sound kind of weird to you if you're used to onna 女 meaning "woman," but that kanji can be read in multiple ways. One of the common ones is jo 女, like in shoujo 少女, "girl." Another one is nyo 女, as in nyotaika 女体化, "woman-body-fication," like a gender-bending anime scenario, e.g. Ranma. Finally we have megami 女神, "goddess," which shares the reading of otome.

The word otome 乙女 can also be spelled as otome 少女, homonymously with shoujo 少女, "girl." Because a girl is a young woman, and a maiden is a young woman, so it's almost the same thing.

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