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Japan has always been a bit mysterious country, with its unique traditions and customs that you will see nowhere else in the world. Samurai, kamikaze, geisha, hara-kiri – when one hears these words, what idea will come to one’s mind first?
The cult of cuteness is not that ancient phenomenon as samurai or kamikaze. Yet, since the 1980s and till the present days, it is directly associated with Japan and the Japanese culture. What is more, the cult of cuteness at some point stopped to be a typical Japanese phenomenon, crossed the borders of the country, and started its journey all over the world.
How did the cult start, become so popular, and reach the United States? I will try to answer these questions in my essay.
When and how did Kawaii style begin?
Kawaii style or cute style emerged and became dominated in Japan in the 1980s. It can be characterized as childish, simple, innocent, weak social behavior and appearance (Kinsella 220).
Manifestations of cute style could be seen not only in the way people dressed or what accessories they used. It became a kind of epidemic, which penetrated in almost all spheres of life. Cuteness “conquered” the Japanese handwriting style, cute goods, clothes, and even food became prevalent. Cute pop idols and singers like Matsuda Seiko meant the same as Sid Vicious to punks (Kinsella 235).
Even such fields as advertising and marketing did not escape cute style. By the way, in the Japanese marketing cuteness is still used very successfully, and you can see numerous ads and commercials that sell goods and services in a “cute way” (Riessland 130).
Why is cute style so popular?
The secret of cute style popularity is rather easy to explain. One of the main reasons is its close relation to childhood. In the interview, three high school Japanese girls were asked what they associate kawaii with. The answers were – sweetness, dependence, and gentleness (Allison 40). Indeed, is not it great to feel like a child a little all the time, feel this comfort, and warmth? If you think that only ladies might think this way, you are not right. Both males and females are obsessed with cute style.
However, I should say that with time cuteness in Japan has undergone some changes. First, among people, attitudes to cute style changed. In the 1990s, there were anti-cute elements who either were intellectuals or simply considered cuties to be stupid and weak (Kinsella 246).
How did cute style reach the United States?
Everything started with Pokemon that once penetrated on the American market, was incredibly successful, and till the present days means more for some American children than Mickey Mouse. It seems that kids are attracted to Pokemon and other Japanese toys not only because of their big eyes, small noses, bright colors, and small bodies. They have some special relations with these characters (Allison 43). Japanese cute toys have almost nothing to do with real life, unlike many American toys and fairy tale characters.
What does it all mean for Japan? It is obvious that Japan benefits from kawaii style not only from the economic point of view selling its cute goods to the Unites States and many other countries around the world. What should be considered in the first place is Japanese culture, which is spread by means of kawaii. No matter what one may think about the Japanese cult of cuteness, it is one more proof of the Japanese uniqueness.
Allison, Anne. Pikachus Global Adventure. Ed. Joseph Tobin. Durham-London: Duke University Press, 2004.
Kinsella, Sharon. Women, Media and Consumption in Japan. Ed. Lise Skov and Brian Moeran, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1995.
Riessland, Andreas. Japanstudien: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Instituts fur Japanstudien der Philipp Franz von Siebold Stiftung, 1997.