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Japanese culture in the heart of Beirut

Manga Japanese Culture

Culture

Japanese culture in the heart of Beirut

Many of us might remember fondly the numerous TV shows we used to watch when we were kids. Such as the likes of Grendizer (the older generations will recall), Dragon Ball Z and more recently Pokemon. However, did you ever stop to wonder what culture is behind these anime? Some in Lebanon know it so well that they actually came together around their shared love for the Japanese pop culture. They are the Lebanese Otaku Group (going by LO).

LO is a nonprofit group that first started on Facebook in 2012 and now boasts more than 2,200 members, or Otakus – in other words, people obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture in Japan.

“Power of the collective”

Courtesy of Lebanese Otaku
@yourbrojackie

One of the Facebook page’s nine administrators, Sara Kaddoura, says that they are “a diverse, highly motivated” bunch. She also says that they “have people from software development, to graphic designers and business law, leading the group. Volunteers are also a part of our community, and their dedication is highly appreciated.” The diversity of this community illustrates well there’s power in numbers.

The group moved beyond social media to create their weekly events in Hamra’s Multiverse, a pop culture store. In 2014 and 2015, they inaugurated annual large-scale events such as Otaku Con and Matsuri. Meetup points in various locations (depending on the number of attendees) for pop culture fans all over Lebanon. The events are backed by sponsors, admin’s financials, and cash retained from prior events. They give an opportunity to all anime, manga fans, gamers, artists and cosplayers “to meet up and enjoy quality time with around 800 other like-minded people. Furthermore, the con provides our community with the opportunity to showcase their manga and comic artists, authors, game developers, cosplayers, musicians, and other pop culture related talents, allowing them to open up to the professional market,” says Kaddoura.

Indeed, the group has also inspired a growing number of Lebanese entrepreneurs to start businesses that cater to Otakus.

Cats and coffee

@ BeirutCatCafe

Beirut Cat Café, for example, is similar to Japanese cat cafés. Located in the heart of Mar Mkhayel, the new venue, that opened on March 10, invites guests to order a drink and pet some cats. The owner, Lynn Alkhouri, says she hopes not only to create a new space akin to Japanese coffee shops but also to help nonprofit organizations such as Beirut Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA) find homes for the cats. Working with BETA, she now has 10 cats up for adoption (as of the time of writing).

Coffee in Japan close to home

Another would be the Otaku Café, now closed because the owners had misevaluated the workload, and couldn’t keep up. Roger Haddad, one of the three former partners, says: “I was driven by my passion for opening the first manga cafe in Lebanon and the region; the fascination of customers from all ages when they discover the interior’s decorations, and the content of the store to be Japanese or pop-culture. Their reaction was always that this is a dream come true. It gave me joy every time, and looking back it still does.”

This trend is rising in Lebanon with groups, restaurants, and cafés that cater to this overlooked Otaku niche, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

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