Nerds for rent

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 August, 2006, 12:00am

Walk through the Akihabara district of central Tokyo, and you are likely to see few women browsing in the shops. Akihabara is where Japan's legions of otaku, or geeks, do their shopping for animated movies, comics, computer components and models of their favourite television characters.


Young male otaku have pretty much been accepted as a part of mainstream modern society, and are no longer worried about being labelled as introverts or weirdos with an odd hobby.


Women, however, are finding that hurdle far harder to overcome, even though they have been drawn to the otaku craze just as avidly as young men.


But in society's eyes, women are expected to be more mature than the boy-men of their own age. So 20-something women remain reluctant to come out of the closet and declare themselves otakuettes.


Which is where Seiichi Hirokawa comes in.


The entrepreneur in Chiba, a city near Tokyo, has set up a companion service for the thousands - potentially hundreds of thousands - of female otaku who refuse to tell work colleagues, friends or family about their obsession, but need a similar-minded friend to talk to.


With the catchy name of the Secret Otaku Support Commission, lonely girls can access his website and arrange a rendezvous with one of his six female staff with the closest area of obsession to their own. That is no mean feat in a sub-culture that gets positively rapt over the extreme minutiae of their chosen specialities.


'All our customers are female, and most of them work as office ladies,' says Mr Hirokawa, who is an otaku with a passion for internet role-playing games.


'They don't have anyone to listen to them, and I act as a go-between, to help them find someone to converse with about the subjects they want to talk about.'


Typically, the customer will arrange to meet the professional otaku in a coffee shop or karaoke lounge. They will discuss the finer points of such otaku staples as the animes Sailor Moon and Evangalion - or Boy's Love, a comic-book series about doe-eyed young men who fall in love with each other, which is currently a best-seller among female otaku.


At 12,000 yen (HK$809) for 2? hours, plus another 3,000 yen for every additional 30 minutes, companionship of this kind does not come cheaply.


But Mr Hirokawa says he is merely setting the price at a rate that single women with a steady job are willing to pay for peace of mind.


He concedes, though, that 'not too many' women have taken the service up on its kind offer of a friendly ear.