電車男

"Densha Otoko" (Japanese for "Train Man") is the title of a best-selling Japanese book, a number of manga, a play, a movie, and a TV-miniseries that is based on what is apparently a true story that occured between March and May 2004.

Background information:

  • The main protagonist is an otaku - loosely equivalent to a nerd in American parlance. They tend to be extremely interested in stuff that normal 18+ yr. olds should not be interested in, such as Sailor Moon, Gundam, etc.
  • The action unfolds in two arenas - real life, and as postings on a internet chat site, specifically 2ch, which is (as I understand it) the largest chatroom website in Japan. Of note - all the participants of these chat sites are anonymous; some use pseudonyms, while others remain totally anoymous. Being a Japanese chat room, they use a lot of ASCII art that have a certain look that is different from what you see in the United States. These particular chatrooms are more like forums - the posts appear in real time, but are organized as threads. They persist, so you can read what happened while you were gone.
  • The specific chat room in question is one that is dedicated to men having no luck with women ("Dokuo", I think, if my Japanese is correct). I mean really no luck... Like 30+ yr. old virgins and such. Most of the lurkers have totally given up on the possibility of getting a girlfriend. (see otaku above)




Basically, the story starts with the usual postings, people moaning about not having a girlfriend because of their looks, their overwhelming shyness, etc. They try to comfort each other. Ocasionlly there are 'traitors', former denizens of the chatroom who have had a change of luck. Though they kiddingly treat them as traitors, they are usually cheered and congratulated. Some are regarded as being a traitor for simply being able to talk to a woman.

During the course of a particular thread, one person (anime otaku, early 20's, no friends, no girlfriend - ever) posts "I may have become a traitor...", and relates a story...

One day, returning from Akihabara after buying otaku-items (like cartoon heroine figures, anime DVDs, etc.), he rides a train. While on the train, he sees a beautiful girl. Of course, being too shy, he barely makes eye contact.

Then, an unruly drunk man comes on the train, and generally acts belligerently. Our protagonist tries to ignore him (like most would in Japan). The drunkard behaves rudely to several passengers, and then starts to harass the beautiful girl. Our protagonist (eventually to be given the pseudonym "Densha Otoko" by the chatroom) snaps, and he shouts at the drunkard to stop. Densha has never even been in a fight before in his whole life. Just as a fight is about to start, a friendly businessman comes and intercedes. Densha is relieved...

The other older ladies on the train congratulate Densha on his courage. All the witnesses are interviewed by train police. Some of the older ladies ask Densha for his address so that they can thank him. The beautiful woman also wants to thank him. In the extreme shyness and panic, he blurts out "nonono... it was nothing", and hurriedly scampers off home.

Densha starts to feel good about himself, because he has done something he has never done before - stand up to others. He feels so good about it, he posts it on the no-girlfriend chatroom he lurks on. He is promptly congratulated by the others. Densha says he is happy to have helped out the beautiful girl, though she was clearly out of his league. Others point out that it wasn't that brave - if he were a normal person, it would have been a normal response.



Things would have stopped there, except a few days later he gets a package. In it is a pair of tea cups, and a letter. The letter says that the cups are in thanks to Densha's help, and it's from the beautiful woman! Densha is extremely excited by this, as he's never received a letter from a girl, let alone a gift. Being the otaku he is he promptly reports it to the chatroom. He is congratulated by a flurry of ASCII-graphic laden posts, though most are quick to point out it doesn't mean much. Being typical nerd-types, the chatroom denizens try to put more meaning into the tea cups. One poster wonders if the fact that she sent a PAIR of cups means anything, while another points out that tea cups usually come and are gifted as pairs. One person points out "Hey... if it's a delivery service... is her phone number on the packing slip?". Densha checks, and replies "Yes!! and it's her cell phone!!!".

The chatroom erupts in a flurry of ASCII-art demanding Densha call her to thank the girl for the gift. They come up with lines for him to use, suggestions to ask her out for dinner, etc. However, Densha lacks the courage to call the girl. He posts that he will consider all the advice, but it's late anyways, so he'll think of calling tomorrow.

Just then, someone asks "What brand is the tea cups?" (Note: Japan is very obsessed with brand names. Most Japanese people, especially younger ones, would gladly pay double for the same item if it was a famous brand name vs. a generic)

Densha replies "it says H-E-R-M-E-S (Roman letters - note: this is all translated loosely from the Japanese).. is that a maker of utensils?"

The chatroom erupts into another flurry of ASCII art. "Thats HERMES (pronounced in the Japanese). It's not what Lalah rides! (an obscure Gundam reference). (Hermes is a French fashion company, I believe. They have stores in places like Rodeo Drive and Paris. At this point, the beautiful girl is given the pseudonym "Hermes" (pronounced el-mess in Japanese) by the chatroom.) Everyone thinks that there might be *something* to the gift, perhaps the girl is interested in him??? You don't just send famous brand tea cups to someone, as it was probably kind of expensive...

Densha gathers more courage than he's ever had for the second time in one day, and posts "I guess I have to call tonight..." The chatroom again floods with posts, some encouraging him, some being astounded by his braveness. The chatroom awaits the results with suspense.

Densha posts "I got her messaging service..." The chatroom is astounded by the fact that he was able to actually muster up the courage to call. They respond with "Good Job!" and "You've gained 1 level!"



... thus ends the first two days' round of posts. When he finally does get in a phone conversation with Hermes, he hilariously asks for help from the chatroom in real-time. He get's fashion advice, restaurant recommendations, and love advice that a normal person would get from their friends from the chatroom. In a particularly fragile moment for Densha, a poster tells him "Just remember, she's just one girl. You got all of us on your side."

The story progresses for about 2 months of real time. The story really has the makings of a nice coming-of-age/love story - so much so that the chat room posters kept pointing out that it was like a TV drama. In fact, it's a otaku-fairy tale. During the course of events, other people post that they too stood up to drunk people on trains. Others are inspired to talk to girls, usually with sad results. When Densha and Hermes have tea of a particular brand, the chatroom lurkers identify the brand, find out that that particular brand of British tea is available at one of the tea shops in a fine department store, and goes and drinks the tea. It is clear that a number of the people reading Densha's story are living vicariously through his net postings. As a bonus, the chat posts are full of obscure references and hilarious one-liners that one can imagine in anonymous forum postings. The posts contain hilarious ASCII art. When Densha get's a favorable response from Hermes, there's a full page ASCII nuclear explosion, stick figures with their heads rolling off, and stick figures hanging by a rope, slowly revolving around. They compare Densha's attempt to hit it off with Hermes to a war, including references to nuclear bombs and bunker busters (which, incidentally, shows that the younger generation in Japan is so unbothered by past events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that a response to pending news from Densha is replied with "Daddy, that airplane is dropping something...")

Another aspect that is entertaining is the idle chatter that occurs while the chatroom lurkers await the next update by Densha - they imagine what is happening, they talk about their own problems, they check out websites like subservient chicken...

The story has been turned into a book, which apparently is just the chatroom logs with ASCII-graphics and all. The story has been made into a TV mini-series and a movie, the latter with an interesting twist. During the course of the events, someone asks what Hermes looks like. Densha replies that she looks like the actress on this TV commercial, who is quickly identified as 中谷美紀 by the internet-savvy chatroom lurkers. The movie features this same actress in the role of Hermes...

If your Japanese is good, you can check it out yourself at:

http://www.geocities.co.jp/Milkyway-Aquarius/7075/trainman.html


If people want, I can try to translate more of the story - as direct translations of the chat logs or as a story summary...

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