Monday, January 15, 2007


Since the 1970s, cuteness has become a prominent aspect of Japanese culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior, and mannerisms. To anyone who knows Japan, the pull of the cute is a powerful and omnipresent force.

As an article in Wired puts it, the Japanese are born into cute and raised with cute. They grow up to save money with cute (Miffy the bunny on Asahi Bank ATM cards), to pray with cute (Hello Kitty charm bags at Shinto shrines), to have sex with cute (prophylactics decorated with Monkichi the monkey, a condom stretched over his body, entreating, "Would you protect me?").

The Japanese word for cute is kawaii. You often hear it spoken alone, a sentence and a sentiment unto itself. "Kawaiiiiiiii!" The sound comes from a girl of perhaps 14, a plaintive, drawn-out keening, equal parts joy ("Look how cute!") and desire ("I want him!"). Minutes later, from a twenty-something OL ("office lady," a uniformed corporate secretary/beverage server). This time it was more of a low groan, as though the longing to possess was causing a tangible ache.

The Japanese teen magazine CREA called kawaii "the most widely used, widely loved, habitual word in modern living Japanese."

Other posts from my trip to Japan: The Land of the Rising Sun, Epicurean in Tokyo - Part I, Epicurean in Tokyo - Part II, Living the Same Day Twice

1 comment:

Yuri said...

Kawaii ;)article