Monday, October 27, 2008

Kawaii: The Culture of Cute

Excerpts from Natalie Avella's Graphic Japan: From Woodblock and Zen to Manga and Kawaii.

A Brief History of Kawaii

"Kawaii, meaning 'cute,' must be one of the most loved and most widely used words in Japan. Kawaii essentially means 'childlike,' and, according to academic Sharon Kinsella, who has studied the phenomenon, it celebrates all that is: 'sweet, adorable, innocent, pure, simple, genuine, gentle, vulnerable, weak, and inexperienced in social behavior and physical appearance.' ...The word kawaii is derived from kawajushi, a word that first appeared in dictionaries prior to 1945. It had principal meanings of 'shy' or 'embarrassed,' but possessed secondary meanings such as 'pathetic,' 'vulnerable,' 'darling,' 'loveable,' and 'small.'" (211-213)

"Kawaii first appeared in the 1970s, at the same time as the emergence of a new craze among teenagers, especially girls, for cute, babyish handwriting, ...[which was a rebellion] against traditional Japanese culture and identifying with European culture. ...As the handwriting craze developed, so did a fashion among young adults for childish behavior, baby-talk, and wearing childish clothes. ...Dressing up continues to be practiced by Japanese youth." (213)

"A love of cute characters appears to transcend both age and gender." (211)

"Cute is not just eye candy on the surfaces of consumer products; kawaii characters also function as a polite way of conferring guidance and information to the public. ...In a country where people are brought up on a diet of manga and anime, cartoons are a common language." (212)

"Creating quasi-relationships with cute, inanimate objects is a relief from, or compensation for, the alienation that many people feel." (214)

"For corporate business, kawaii helps to give a friendly face to an otherwise impersonal corporate identity, giving people a way to build a personal relationship with a particular brand." (212)

"Japanese tend to enjoy funny topics for daily conversation, such as 'what kind of dumb things they've done,' or descriptions of their own mistakes. This is an attempt to disarm the listener, and to develop more intimate relationships. Similarly, funny mascots tell you that the owner is friendly and unpretentious." (212)

"In Japan, group harmony is valued above individual expression." (214)

Other Sources for Studies on Kawaii

"Modern consumers might not be able to meet and develop relationships enough with people, but the implication of cute goods design was that they could always attempt to develop them with cute objects." Source: Kinsella, Sharon. "Cuties in Japan." Women, Media and Consumption in Japan. University of Hawaii Press.

"Kawaii gives people a way to hang onto childhood and thereby postpone the pressures of adulthood. ...Adulthood was not viewed as a source of freedom and independence, it was viewed as quite the opposite, as a period of restrictions and hard work. ...Cute fashions idolize childhood because it is seen as a place of individual freedom unattainable in society." (Kinsella)

"Wearing a cute mascot in public is a way to communicate with others like yourself. There is a consensus that a person who likes cute things is good. If you show a funny mascot, people assume that you are an easy-going and open-minded person. Your mascot makes people around you believe you are more approachable. The mascot also" Source: Kato, Miki. "Cute Culture." Eye. Issue 44 Summer 2002.

"If you invite a Japanese acquaintance to dinner, and ask them what kind of restaurant they would like to go to, they will probably answer, 'anywhere you like.' Not having an individual voice is considered a traditional virtue in Japan and this is based on the idea of amae," which means to "act like a child." (Kato)

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