When you hear the word “kawaii”, what’s your first thought? Is it Hello Kitty or some famous anime character like Sailor Moon? Maybe you think of Pokémon and Sanrio characters? Do you think of Japan and its cute cafes and merchandise? Because that’s what most people have associated with kawaii, and as we all know, kawaii – the term and the culture, originated in Japan.
Origin of “kawaii”
Kawaii (可愛い in Kanji, written in hiragana as かわいい ) is from the phrase 顔映し, “Kao Hayashi” which is described as flushing of the face out of embarrassment. Picture someone saying the word “kawaii”, don’t you think of a cute character embarrassed and blushing? But Kao Hayashi eventually became kawaii, with it representing all things cute and lovable.
The beginning of kawaii culture
Are you interested in knowing how the kawaii culture started? To be honest, the reason behind why it started is a bit dim since kawaii culture emerged after World War II. It began when teenage girls rebelled, establishing a youth movement in which they wrote horizontally rather than vertically, giving the appearance of cutesy child-like handwriting. These styles of writing were termed maru-ji, koneko-ji, and burikko-ji, which means round writing, kitten writing, and faux-childish writing respectively. They valued these actions during this time because it helped them express their individuality.
By this day and age, everybody has probably heard of Hello Kitty, right? Hello Kitty, the pioneer of kawaii culture, was first made in 1974 by Yuko Shimizu. Its first appearance in the market was on a vinyl coin purse in March 1975. Aside from Hello Kitty, numerous kawaii characters have emerged, such as other Sanrio characters like Little Twin Stars, Gudetama, and Kero Keroppi. Throughout the 70s and 80s, cute became a style in shops, merchandise, cafés, and food. To date, Hello Kitty has over 50, 000 products in over 100 plus countries!
The evolution of kawaii culture
We already know how it began and how it was during its first few years, but how has kawaii culture evolved? Kawaii culture started in Japan but has expanded to various countries since then. There has been a strong kawaii influence in countries such as Europe, America, and other parts of Asia such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, and Vietnam. The kawaii culture has evolved and graced the countries through modern art, written media, and various fashion trends. From the simple and cute childish handwriting, it has expanded into other mediums such as kawaii products, kawaii art, and kawaii films.
Also, since the introduction of anime and manga to the world, there have been a lot of businesses popping up to please the fans of these anime and manga and create a product they would love to purchase. Aside from the expansion to different countries, Japan itself has Harajuku, where kawaii culture and trends blossom. At first, Harajuku was an Americanized area associated with foreignness. But during the 70s and the introduction of kawaii culture, it evolved into a popular tourist destination for the pop culture and kawaii-themed establishments.
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What does kawaii culture look like?
The kawaii culture isn’t just the cute animated characters, there is so much more to it. There are different areas we can explore in the current state of kawaii culture, such as:
Of course, first and foremost, let’s talk about Kawaii Fashion and the Kawaii Aesthetic. This is one of the fashion trends popular in Western and Asian countries. There are such fashion trends as Lolita fits which are Victorian-style outfits that have ruffles, bloomers, and parasols. Harajuku has a lot of kawaii fashion outlets you can choose from. To read more about the kawaii aesthetic, visit this article.
There are many kawaii-style games you can find on the internet nowadays and Japan is known for its gaming industry. Some popular examples are games like Osu, Animal Crossing, Kirby series, Genshin Impact, and League of Legends! Surely, you have come across people who play these games. There are also games based on anime such as Dragon Ball FighterZ and Naruto Shippuden: Ninja Ultimate Storm 4.
The kawaii art style is typically characters with big eyes, round shapes, and simple features. There are different genres of kawaii art such as guro-kawaii, ero-kawaii, kimo-kawaii, and busui-kawaii which are grotesque, erotic, creepy, and ugly cute respectively. One of the well-known kawaii artists is Takashi Murakami, and you can view some of his art here.
The kawaii culture made its mark in food as well. Have you ever come across videos on Tiktok and YouTube where wives prepare packed lunches for their husbands and children? Some of them make bento lunches, which are popular in Japan. There are two types of bento boxes, known as kyaraben and oekakiben. Both are visually appealing, as kyaraben bento is filled with animals and popular characters, whereas oekakiben bento is filled with buildings and landscapes.
Other types of kawaii food famous in Japan are Totoro Cream puffs, Taiyaki, and Japanese Souffle Pancakes. When you go to grocery stores, you will also find anime-themed snacks for children and adults to enjoy. Most of the delicacies they have are also designed to be cute and attractive to the eye. If you take your time to observe and buy Japanese food from grocery and convenience stores, you will find that they invest a lot of effort into the aesthetic features of their packaging.
For the kawaii entertainment industry, aside from the animated series and movies with kawaii elements, you can also take a look at their celebrities. Male and female pop stars wear makeup and clothing that are cute and flashy. These stars also act cute when they interact with their fans, be it through their words or their actions.
Lastly, most Japanese establishments, companies, or prefectures, have their mascots. They are usually lovely animals! Another way to call mascots is yuru-kyara. Japan has over 3, 000 mascots! You can check out this website to read more about Japanese mascots.
Understanding the kawaii culture
The Japanese love kawaii culture! This culture represents youth, freedom, and positivity. More than just culture, for some it is also a lifestyle. In Japanese culture, being and looking youthful is something they value. Aside from that, the cuteness eases their burdens and is refreshing to the stress of their study and work days. That’s why the kawaii culture has a strong impact on their country. Understand more about the kawaii culture here.