Soichi Masubuchi (増淵宗一, Masubuchi Sōichi), in his work Kawaii Syndrome, claims “cute” and “neat” have taken precedence over the former Japanese aesthetics of “beautiful” and “refined”. As a cultural phenomenon, cuteness is increasingly accepted in Japan as a part of Japanese culture and national identity. Tomoyuki Sugiyama (杉山奉文, Sugiyama Tomoyuki), author of Cool Japan, believes that “cuteness” is rooted in Japan’s harmony-loving culture, and Nobuyoshi Kurita (栗田経惟, Kurita Nobuyoshi), a sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo, has stated that “cute” is a “magic term” that encompasses everything that is acceptable and desirable in Japan.
Japanese women who feign kawaii behaviors (e.g., high-pitched voice, squealing giggles) that could be viewed as forced or inauthentic are called burikko and this is considered a gender performance. The neologism developed in the 1980s, perhaps originated by comedian Kuniko Yamada (山田邦子, Yamada Kuniko).
In Japan, being cute is acceptable for both men and women. A trend existed of men shaving their legs to mimic the neotenic look. Japanese women often try to act cute to attract men. A study by Kanebo, a cosmetic company, found that Japanese women in their 20s and 30s favored the “cute look” with a “childish round face”. Women also employ a look of innocence in order to further play out this idea of cuteness. Having large eyes is one aspect that exemplifies innocence; therefore many Japanese women attempt to alter the size of their eyes. To create this illusion, women may wear large contact lenses, false eyelashes, dramatic eye makeup, and even have an East Asian blepharoplasty, commonly known as double eyelid surgery.
Japanese idols (アイドル, aidoru) are media personalities in their teens and twenties who are considered particularly attractive or cute and who will, for a period ranging from several months to a few years, regularly appear in the mass media, e.g. as singers for pop groups, bit-part actors, TV personalities (tarento), models in photo spreads published in magazines, advertisements, etc. (But not every young celebrity is considered an idol. Young celebrities who wish to cultivate a rebellious image, such as many rock musicians, reject the “idol” label.) Speed, Morning Musume, AKB48, and Momoiro Clover Z are examples of popular idol groups in Japan during the 2000s & 2010s.
Lolita fashion is a very well-known and recognizable style in Japan. Based on Victorian fashion and the Rococo period, girls mix in their own elements along with gothic style to achieve the porcelain-doll look. The girls who dress in Lolita fashion try to look cute, innocent, and beautiful. This look is achieved with lace, ribbons, bows, ruffles, bloomers, aprons, and ruffled petticoats. Parasols, chunky Mary Jane heels, and Bo Peep collars are also very popular.
Sweet Lolita is a subset of Lolita fashion that includes even more ribbons, bows, and lace, and is often fabricated out of pastels and other light colors. Another subset of Lolita fashion related to “sweet Lolita” is Fairy Kei. Head-dresses such as giant bows or bonnets are also very common, while lighter make-up is also used to achieve a more natural look. Curled hair extensions, sometimes accompanied by eyelash extensions, are also popular in helping with the baby doll look.
Themes such as fruits, flowers and sweets are often used as patterns on the fabrics used for dresses. Purses often go with the themes and are shaped as hearts, strawberries, or stuffed animals. Baby, the Stars Shine Bright is one of the more popular clothing stores for this style and often carries themes. Mannerisms are also important to many Sweet Lolitas. Sweet Lolita is not only a fashion, but also a lifestyle. This is evident in the 2004 film Kamikaze Girls where the main Lolita character, Momoko, drinks only tea and eats only sweets.
Decora is a style that is characterized by wearing many “decorations” on oneself. It is considered to be self-decoration. The goal of this fashion is to become as vibrant and characterized as possible. People who take part in this fashion trend wear accessories such as multicolor hair pins, bracelets, rings, necklaces, etc. By adding on multiple layers of accessories on an outfit, the fashion trend tends to have a childlike appearance. It also includes toys and multicolor clothes.
Although typically a female-dominated fashion, some men partake in the kawaii trend. They transform themselves into women—specifically kawaii women—by wearing wigs, false eyelashes, applying makeup, and wearing kawaii female clothing. This is seen predominately in male entertainers, such as Torideta-san, a DJ who transforms himself into a kawaii woman when working at his nightclub.
Japanese pop stars and actors often have longer hair, such as Takuya Kimura of SMAP. Men are also noted as often aspiring to a neotenic look. While it doesn’t quite fit the exact specifications of what cuteness means for females, men are certainly influenced by the same societal mores – to be attractive in a specific sort of way that the society finds acceptable. In this way both Japanese men and women conform to the expectations of Kawaii in some way or another.
The concept of kawaii has had an influence on a variety of products, including candy, such as Hi-Chew, Koala’s March and Hello Panda. Cuteness can be added to products by adding cute features, such as hearts, flowers, stars and rainbows. Cute elements can be found almost everywhere in Japan, from big business to corner markets and national government, ward, and town offices. Many companies, large and small, use cute mascots to present their wares and services to the public. For example:All Nippon Airways Boeing 747 with a Pokémon livery JNR Class C11 locomotive repainted as Thomas the Tank Engine, Japan, 2014
- Pikachu, a character from Pokémon, adorns the side of ten ANA passenger jets, the Pokémon Jets.
- Asahi Bank used Miffy (Nijntje), a character from a Dutch series of children’s picture books, on some of its ATM and credit cards.
- The prefectures of Japan, as well as many cities and cultural institutions, have cute mascot characters known as yuru-chara to promote tourism. Kumamon, the Kumamoto Prefecture mascot, and Hikonyan, the city of Hikone mascot, are among the most popular.
- The Japan Post “Yū-Pack” mascot is a stylized mailbox; they also use other cute mascot characters to promote their various services (among them the Postal Savings Bank) and have used many such on postage stamps.
- Some police forces in Japan have their own moe mascots, which sometimes adorn the front of kōban (police boxes).
- NHK, the public broadcaster, has its own cute mascots. Domokun, the unique-looking and widely recognized NHK mascot, was introduced in 1998 and quickly took on a life of its own, appearing in Internet memes and fan art around the world.
- Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty and other similarly cute characters, runs the Sanrio Puroland theme park in Tokyo, and painted on some EVA Air Airbus A330 jets as well. Sanrio’s line of more than 50 characters takes in more than $1 billion a year and it remains the most successful company to capitalize on the cute trend.
Cute can be also used to describe a specific fashion sense of an individual, and generally includes clothing that appears to be made for young children, apart from the size, or clothing that accentuates the cuteness of the individual wearing the clothing. Ruffles and pastel colors are commonly (but not always) featured, and accessories often include toys or bags featuring anime characters.
There have been occasions on which popular Western products failed to meet the expectations of kawaii, and thus did not do well in the Japanese market. For example, Cabbage Patch Kids dolls did not sell well in Japan, because the Japanese considered their facial features to be “ugly” and “grotesque” compared to the flatter and almost featureless faces of characters such as Hello Kitty. Also, the doll Barbie, portraying an adult woman, did not become successful in Japan compared to Takara’s Licca, a doll that was modeled after an 11-year-old girl.
Kawaii has gradually gone from a small subculture in Japan to an important part of Japanese modern culture as a whole. An overwhelming number of modern items feature kawaii themes, not only in Japan but also worldwide. And characters associated with kawaii are astoundingly popular. “Global cuteness” is reflected in such billion-dollar sellers as Pokémon and Hello Kitty. “Fueled by Internet subcultures, Hello Kitty alone has hundreds of entries on eBay, and is selling in more than 30 countries, including Argentina, Bahrain, and Taiwan.”
Japan has become a powerhouse in the kawaii industry and images of Doraemon, Hello Kitty, Pikachu, Sailor Moon and Hamtaro are popular in mobile phone accessories. However, Professor Tian Shenliang says that Japan’s future is dependent on how much of an impact kawaii brings to humanity.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry has also recognized the power of cute merchandise and has sent three 18-year-old women overseas in the hopes of spreading Japanese culture around the world. The women are dress in uniforms and maid costumes that are commonplace in Japan.
Kawaii manga and magazines have brought tremendous profit to the Japanese press industry. Moreover, the worldwide revenue from the computer game and its merchandising peripherals are closing in on $5 billion, according to a Nintendo press release titled “It’s a Pokémon Planet”.
Credits to: wikipedia