If you’ve ever been to Japan or are a fan of anime, manga, or Japanese culture in general, you’re most probably familiar with the word kawaii.
Although it roughly translates to “cute”, this frequently used Japanese word is more than just a word to describe anything endearingly adorable– it’s also a widely celebrated cultural style. In this article, we’ll discuss all you need to know about the kawaii culture. From the etymology and history to the practical applications of the kawaii aesthetic.
Where Did Kawaii Come From?
The word ‘kawaii’ has a long history that dates back to the Heian Period (794 – 1185) or the Golden Age of Japan. It stemmed from the archaic word kaohayushi, which describes a face flushed red from embarrassment.
As the word evolved and the pronunciation changed to kawayushi, the meaning also changed to embarrassing, small, cute, and lovable. Eventually, it transformed into the word ‘kawaii’ that we use today to describe something cute and lovable.
The Kawaii Culture
As a cultural style, kawaii is characterized by bright, pastel colors and childlike, cartoonish imagery. It’s an important part of Japanese culture and is basically about giving personality even to mundane things or inanimate objects.
For instance, many restaurants in Japan serve pastries, bread, or mounds of rice sculpted into cute characters and have kawaii mascots to give them a more approachable and welcoming feel. Everyday items, clothing, road signages, and almost anything you can think of have also been designed to fit this aesthetic.
However, the strong influence of the culture of cuteness is not only popular in Japan. It spread like wildfire throughout the different parts of the world. To this day, the kawaii culture is still booming and there are even thousands of online shops that sell kawaii items exclusively.
Jumping into the Kawaii Culture
The kawaii culture has penetrated many aspects of lifestyle and pop culture. Here are some ways to jump into the kawaii culture:
With cosplay as a hallmark of the modern Japanese lifestyle, kawaii fashion trends are extremely popular. Although you don’t necessarily have to dress up and portray your favorite anime and manga characters, there are pieces of clothing that embody the cute culture. These are typically colorful, vibrant, and frilly clothes with a childlike vibe around it.
For girls, there are also all sorts of accessories that can make you look like a certified kawaii girl. From distinctive headbands with bunny ears and overstated bows, to accessories with glitters, hearts, and stars, there are countless ways for your kawaii style to pop.
Japan is famous for its gaming industry and there are a lot of games, especially from this country, that have kawaii elements to them. However, more than game genres, you can also buy kawaii gaming accessories to move away from the typical accessories that have a mundane and minimalistic feel.
Some of the most popular accessories that can complete your gaming setup include protective cases, kawaii keycaps for your mechanical keyboard, mouse pads or desk mats, thumb grips for consoles, and seat cushions. The best thing about these kawaii gaming accessories is that they’re not only aesthetically pleasing but also highly functional.
Some can help you protect your console from scratches and spills, while others can make your gaming experience more comfortable.
There are different genres of kawaii art including guro-kawaii or grotesque cute, kimo-kawaii or creepy cute, ero-kawaii or erotic cute, and busu-kawaii or ugly cute. Takashi Murakami, who’s known as “The Warhol of Japan”, is one of the most famous kawaii artists. His works portray a unique cartoon-pop aesthetic.
One of the most kawaii trends is turning food items and packed lunches or bentos into cute works of art. There are two different styles of bento boxes– the kyaraben or ‘character bento’ which is designed to look like characters from popular media, manga, or video games, and the oekakiben or “picture bento”, which is designed to look like animals, buildings, plants, and landscapes.
Speaking of food, there are also food-inspired kawaii plushies that anyone with the munchies will appreciate. From fruits and vegetables to sandos and boba tea with kawaii faces, these decorative and huggable plushies are a great way to jump into the kawaii culture.
The next time your barista puts a cat face in your coffee foam or you see a plushie with adorable cartoon-like features and accessories with cute animal ears, you’ll know what to call it. With the global popularity of kawaii culture, you no longer need to visit Japan to experience the culture of cuteness.
There are thousands of restaurants and online shops that sell kawaii-themed items that are perfect as gifts or as an addition to your own personal collection. You just have to be careful though, as not all are created equal. We know it’s easy to be swayed just by how adorable the items look, but the quality of materials and craftsmanship are also important factors to consider.
Go ahead, shop away and become a bona fide kawaii girl– or guy. And oh, don’t forget to take a snap of it and share it with us!