Kawaii Influence On Other Cultures
In recent years, Kawaii products have gained popularity beyond the borders of Japan in other East and Southeast Asian countries, and are additionally becoming more popular in the US among anime and manga fans as well as others influenced by Japanese culture. Cute merchandise and products are especially popular in other parts of East Asia, such as mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and South Korea, as well as Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Sebastian Masuda, owner of 6%DOKIDOKI and a global advocate for kawaii influence, takes the quality from Harajuku to Western markets in his stores and artwork. The underlying belief of this Japanese designer is that “kawaii” actually saves the world. The infusion of kawaii into other world markets and cultures is achieved by introducing kawaii via modern art; audio, visual, and written media; and the fashion trends of Japanese youth, especially in high school girls.
Japanese kawaii seemingly operates as a center of global popularity due to its association with making cultural productions and consumer products “cute”. This mindset pursues a global market, giving rise to numerous applications and interpretations in other cultures.
The dissemination of Japanese youth fashion and “kawaii culture” is usually associated with the Western society and trends set by designers borrowed or taken from Japan. With the emergence of China, South Korea and Singapore as global economic centers, the Kawaii merchandise and product popularity has shifted back to the East. In these East Asian and Southeast Asian markets, the kawaii concept takes on various forms and different types of presentation depending on the target audience.
In East Asia and Southeast Asia
Taiwanese culture, the government in particular, has embraced and elevated kawaii to a new level of social consciousness. The introduction of the A-Bian doll was seen as the development of a symbol to advance democracy and assist in constructing a collective imagination and national identity for Taiwanese people. The A-Bian dolls are kawaii likeness of sports figure, famous individuals, and now political figures that use kawaii images as a means of self-promotion and potential votes. The creation of the A-Bian doll has allowed Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian staffers to create a new culture where the “kawaii” image of a politician can be used to mobilize support and gain election votes.
Japanese popular “kawaii culture” has had an effect on Singaporean youth. The emergence of Japanese culture can be traced back to the mid-1980s when Japan became one of the economic powers in the world. Kawaii has developed from a few children’s television shows to an Internet sensation. Japanese media is used so abundantly in Singapore that youths are more likely to imitate the fashion of their Japanese idols, learn the Japanese language, and continue purchasing Japanese oriented merchandise.
The East Asian countries of mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, as well as the Southeast Asian country of Thailand either produce kawaii items for international consumption or have websites that cater for kawaii as part of the youth culture in their country. Kawaii has taken on a life of its own, spawning the formation of kawaii websites, kawaii home pages, kawaii browser themes and finally, kawaii social networking pages. While Japan is the origin and Mecca of all things kawaii, artists and businesses around the world are imitating the kawaii theme.
Kawaii has truly become “greater” than itself. The interconnectedness of today’s world via the Internet has taken kawaii to new heights of exposure and acceptance, producing a kawaii “movement”.
The Kawaii concept has become something of a global phenomenon. The aesthetic cuteness of Japan is very appealing to people globally. The wide popularity of Japanese kawaii is often credited with it being “culturally odorless”. The elimination of exoticism and national branding has helped kawaii to reach numerous target audiences and span every culture, class, and gender group. The palatable characteristics of kawaii have made it a global hit, resulting in Japan’s global image shifting from being known for austere rock gardens to being known for “cute-worship”.
In 2014, the Collins English Dictionary in the United Kingdom entered “kawaii” into its then latest edition, defining it as a “Japanese artistic and cultural style that emphasizes the quality of cuteness, using bright colours and characters with a childlike appearance”.
In his book The Power of Cute, Simon May talks about the 180 degree turn in Japan’s history, from the violence of war to kawaii starting around the 1970s, in the works of artists like Takashi Murakami, amongst others. By 1992, kawaii was seen as “the most widely used, widely loved, habitual word in modern living Japanese.” Since then, there has been some controversy surrounding the term kawaii and the expectations of it in Japanese culture. Natalia Konstantinovskaia, in her article “Being Kawaii in Japan”, says that based on the increasing ratio of young Japanese girls that view themselves as kawaii, there is a possibility that “from early childhood, Japanese people are socialized into the expectation that women must be kawaii.” The idea of kawaii can be tricky to balance – if a woman’s interpretation of kawaii seems to have gone too far, she is then labeled as buriko, “a woman who plays bogus innocence.” In the article “Embodied Kawaii: Girls’ voices in J-pop”, the authors make the argument that female J-pop singers are expected to be recognizable by their outfits, voice, and mannerisms as kawaii – young and cute. Any woman who becomes a J-pop icon must stay kawaii, or keep her girlishness, rather than being perceived as a woman, even if she is over 18.