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Kawaii: All You Need To Know About The Cuteness Culture Of Japan


Have you ever wondered why Hello Kitty or Pikachu are so famous? What makes them a top collectible among adults and children alike? The answer lies in the popular Japanese culture that they are a part of. If you're already acquainted with Japan's culture, you're probably familiar with the term kawaii

The word kawaii instantly makes most people think of bright pastel colors, cute dresses, Hello Kitty, anime and, definitely, Japan. The actual word kawaii takes its roots from the term that is referred to as blushing; however, over time, the meaning of kawaii is now equated with ‘cute.’

To be honest, kawaii can't be limited to just being cute; it occupies a major place in Japanese culture and has dug its roots deep in lifestyle, fashion, anime, music, and so much more.

After the success of kawaii in Japanese culture and lifestyle, kawaii culture in America is on the rise and in demand. So, let us begin to explore the kawaii culture of cuteness.

What does kawaii mean? What is kawaii culture?

What does kawaii mean is a question for most of us, especially people who have no know-how of Japanese culture and tradition whatsoever. We'll gladly take this opportunity to enlightening you. Kawaii is popularly referred to as ‘cute culture,’ however, the term is broader than that. Even though it appears to be quite simple, the truth is that there are several meanings associated with it.

Generally translating as ‘cute’, the term kawaii is among the most spoken words in Japanese. From a wider perspective, it is the description of celebrating everything that falls under the category of adorable and associating fictional characters with positivity.

It encompasses:

  • Fashion
  • Cute writing style
  • Eye-catching products
  • Anything that instantly conveys feelings of care, love and innocence can be ‘kawaii.’

Cute animal babies and children with big, round eyes form the basis of this term and are also the most popular characters.

Taking its roots in Japan, this trend has successfully evolved into a sought after phenomenon, making its way into art, technology and fashion.

Let’s get to know the history of kawaii 

Without knowing the history of kawaii, one cannot understand why is kawaii exclusive to Japanese culture. How was this unique concept born?

Well, you can thank teenagers in the '70s who created a childlike handwriting style. The writing style displayed everything that a child's mind could conjure: wavy and curvy lines, and subtle animations such as hearts and stars.

Many people believe that this form of writing offered an escape for the youth, as well as an opportunity to showcase their personality. This childlike writing style, also known as 'maru ji', was initially banned in many schools. However, this unique style gained popularity in the '80s among different advertising agencies, which ultimately contributed to the creation of our most loved kawaii characters

Another major influence came in the form of Hello Kitty, in 1974. This famous character is the brainchild of Sanrio, who became the kawaii culture's ambassador and has promoted it throughout the world for decades. Whether it’s t-shirts, stationery or bags, you had to kitty-fy everything.

The different kawaii styles

Kawaii isn’t limited to one specific style or type. Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent kawaii styles that are must-haves for kawaii fans. 

Emo kawaii: dark colors, full-on attitude, entertainment and music along with a tinge of Goth is what the Emo style of kawaii is all about. The clothing features skulls and cute looking creatures that are meant to look scary rather than cute.

So, Emo kawaii isn't isolated from 'cuteness'; rather, it incorporates darker colors with a pinch of Emo.

  • Emo enthusiasts like to incorporate bright colors, usually accompanied by a large portion of black in their attire.
  • Emo has different variations and styles where each Emo fan will have their own unique look.
  • While completing the Emo look, hairstyles can be cute, or they might be extreme. Instead of opting for girly hairstyles,the Emo hairstyle is centered on spikes and different colored hair. 

Lolita kawaii: the most popular style in kawaii is Lolita. This variation focuses on everything that screams antique. This form of fashion is inspired by the Victorian era and boasts petticoats and skirts up to the knees. Girls who dress up according to this form of kawaii look like real-life versions of dolls. 

  • One variation of this style is known as the 'sweet Lolita', whereas the other is called 'Gothic Lolita.'
  • The difference between the two styles is determined by choice of colours and accessories.
  • Sweet Lolitas don bright makeup that is paired with cute accessories. 
  • Gothic Lolitas are fans of crosses and flaunt dark gothic makeup. 
  • kawaii styles that take inspiration from baby dolls fall under the Lolita category. 

Shibu-kawaii: this is more of a subtle and casual version of kawaii, which may eventually exceed Lolita in popularity as you can showcase it every day. The makeup used in this style is mostly natural with light eye shadow.

  • This style incorporates natural makeup with neutral tones and subtle eyes. 
  • The clothing style is distinctive, yet it is toned down as compared to other styles of kawaii.
  • Most of the time, lens-less glasses are worn along with cute bags and hair accessories.

Cats and kawaii culture

Cats and kittens have been an important part of the kawaii culture for decades. The question is, "what is a kawaii cat”? When it comes to features of cartoon cats, they can either be small or exaggerated, ranging from small noses with wide eyes to small eyes with a large mouth. There is simply no limitation, and the ultimate goal is to give off a cute aura.

It is safe to say that the Modern breeds of Persian cats are a spot-on representation of kawaii owing to their big round eyes and small mouth. These features give them an instant ‘cuteness,’ which kawaii fans long for. This is why cats in kawaii culture have a strong-rooted place. 

Cats and kawaii culture have gained massive popularity over the years as cats have strong links to legends and superstition in Japan. Therefore, you will see people sporting kawaii cat bags, kawaii cat wallpaper, kawaii cats drawing, and so much more.

The most famous kawaii characters

What are kawaii characters? The kawaii characters initially emerged as cat-shaped backpacks for young girls. Over the years, people belonging to all genders and age groups have fallen in love with these kawaii cat characters.  

These adorable characters have made their way into music, fashion, house decor and everything you can imagine. Whether you are buying it for your friend or yourself, kawaii makes the perfect gift. So why not add some cuteness to your life? 

Without further ado, let's look at some of the most famous kawaii characters:

Pusheen The Cat

Is Pusheen kawaii? Yes, it is. If you love using stickers in your conversations that we are sure you wouldn't have missed the ever-so-cute Pusheen. This grey, cuddly-looking chubby cat has been around for quite a few years.

Kawaii Cat Pusheen was the master creation of Andrew Duff and Clair Belton and was initially created for their website’s comic strip. Their creation became so famous, it has its own website now and a book that is loaded with comic strips of Pusheen the cat.

Hello Kitty

The name Hello Kitty needs no introduction. It is one of the most cute kawaii cats. There is no character that can surpass its popularity in the arena of adorable characters. There are no limits to Hello kitty’s fame.

Being incorporated in every item possible, Hello kitty has even had the honor of parading down Manhattan’s streets. Stationery items, bags, toiletries, furniture you name it, nearly everything you can think of has had the honor to join the Hello Kitty family.

Disney Ufufy

I’m sure many of you are unaware of the fact that there are Disney characters based on kawaii. One such kawaii Disney character is Disney Ufufy, a collection of small plush toys that emerged in 2016 in the Japanese market of Disney. You can expect all the famous Disney characters such as Daisy Duck, Donald Duck, Minnie and mickey to be available in little palm-sized versions. 

Ufufy are a top gift choice as they all boast the same egg-like shape with distinctive features that resemble their specific Disney characters. They also have tiny scent packets within them, which makes them smell really good. 

The Pokémon Hero Pikachu

Pikachu is also one of the oldest kawaii characters and is insanely famous. Pikachu has also been lucky enough to be paraded as a float during the Macy’s parade.

What makes this character a top hit is that it appeals to men and young boys alike. This character has made its way to stationery items, furniture, clothing and everything that you can think of.

Keroppi

Even if you haven't heard the name before, we are sure you would be able to recognize Keroppi if you happened to come across it.

Keroppi is another creation of Sanrio that is a small frog with big wide eyes. He has an oversized head and is mostly seen in a white and red shirt with stripes. He happily lives away in Donut pond and has similar looking family and friends. Keroppi’s character proves that kawaii can make anything or anyone look cute. 

It is safe to say that the kawaii characters are among the most favorite and loved pop culture characters. They give off a childish spirit that many of us tend to let go of as we venture off into our adult lives. They offer us the best escape into our childhood fantasies. 

Kawaii and popular culture

The Japanese culture of kawaii is also a vital concept of popular culture. It occupies a major part in popular concepts and can be seen in different aspects ranging from fashion to clothing to food. Let’s look at some of its examples in detail:

Kawaii cosplay

Cosplay involves wearing costumes that represent characters of pop culture, mostly from anime and manga. It has now become an important segment of Japanese culture. This practice is completed with intricate costumes along with several fashion accessories.

Though in the West, these sorts of activities are limited to parades or carnivals, there are many extensions of Cosplay in Japan. It can be thought of as an immortal trend that has significant importance in the subculture of Japan.

Street fashion inspired by Kawaii

Nearly all of the famous styles of the fashion industry in Japan have some aspects of kawaii. The most famous fashion style is Lolita, which has several variations ranging from Gothic to Sweet.

Another famous depiction of kawaii is the Decora or various glamorous styles that depict kawaii in a way that uses exaggerated accessories and details. This sort of fashion is prevalent on the stage rather than in everyday life.

Kawaii public events

As anime and manga fictional characters form the basis of kawaii culture, we can see their representation in real life during comic con events, organizations and parades that are carried out in Japan, Korea, Philippines and other parts of the world.

Exhibitions, parades and cosplay events are some of the platforms that incorporate kawaii elements in the real world. 

Final thoughts

If you want to know “why is Japan obsessed with cute things”, the answer is pretty simple; they are adorable to look at. From clothing to fashion accessories to stationery to décor, kawaii style can be incorporated into anything, making the user look stylish and cute.

A unique aspect of kawaii is that it can be ever so simple. A large majority of the characters are designed in a cute way with large eyes and disproportionate heads with a small nose and zero expressions. The most prominent examples are Pokémon and Hello Kitty.

It is quite tough to summarize the entire concept and types of kawaii to someone who is not familiar with Japanese culture. Still, we hope this post has given you an in-depth understanding of this 'cuteness overload' culture.

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