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What is kawaii and why is everything in Japan so cute?

“Kawaii” is the Japanese term for “cute.” And if you know anything about Japan you know kawaii reigns. The love of all things cute is found throughout Asia, but it is heightened to an art form in Japan. When I first moved to Asia I will admit, I didn’t see the allure of cuteness. It seemed childish and naive, not the stuff of “grown ups.” However, I have come full circle on cute. I might just have some Hello Kitty pens and perhaps a charm or two. I admire the cute, roly poly stuffed pandas on my adult co-workers desks. And I recently bought an umbrella in Tokyo with graphics of fat piglets in rainboots…it made me smile. Pigs. In rainboots!

But how is it that Japan has cornered the market on cute?

Kawaii is a highly valued aesthetic fully embraced in the Japanese culture and national identity. It has come to represent everything that is desirable with secondary meanings extending to “cool” and “beautiful”. Some people attribute it to the relatively controlling environment of Japan as compared to the West and suggest that this environment might infantilize adults making them more appreciate and revere childish objects. Still others say that it is “safe” to festishize cute, because in Japan non-aggressive and peaceful behaviours are rewarded. Actually, there’s no one answer on the origins of kawaii.

Kawaii is everywhere in Japan. We have all seen the Hello Kitty trinkets and such, but kawaii extends not only to consumer goods, but also to beauty. The female ideal is the large eyes and small round face characteristic of (cute) children. This is why Barbie never sold well in Japan…too real, too adult for the Japanese. Kawaii is in food – dumplings and buns are shaped into bunnies, piglets and cats. If an object can be given eyes and a mouth to make it kawaii, then it will be. Kawaii is even in sex, with the Japanese school girl being the most well-known fantasy of Japanese men. And even big business is not shy about kawaii – the national airline ANA features a gigantic Pikachu on its aircraft.

Courtesy of Now Public

There are simply no cuter random personal and household goods in the world. Take a look at a mere sampling look of what I found on a recent trip to Tokyo.

Wigs for Pets