You may wonder, who doesn’t love cute stuff? But no one does it to the extent of the Japanese. Kawaii or the love of cuteness is a prominent part of the Japanese culture today. It dates back to centuries and is now imbibed in their lifestyle, dressing, food, how they talk and behave – basically, everything.

What Is Kawaii?

The term Kawaii has a prolonged history that goes back to the Japanese Golden Era. Many believe that kawaii has its origins in the word ‘kaohayushi’ (かほはゆし in Japanese). During that period, this word was used in situations when a person’s face flushed or turned red due to shyness, guilt, or embarrassment. Later, kaohayushi transformed into ‘kawayushi’ (かわゆし), which eventually became kawaii for ease of use.

What Is Kawaii

No matter how many times the term has been morphed over the years, its real essence is still the same. Kawaii points to anything that arouses the feelings of joy, love, and warmth in your heart. When written in the Japanese language, it gives the literal meaning of something which can be loved. It won’t be wrong to say kawaii is the true symbol of innocence and adorableness in Japanese culture today.

History of Kawaii – When Did It All Begin?

The Golden Era of Japan

History of Kawaii

Although Kawaii culture rose to prominence in the 1970s, the emergence of the culture dates back to the Japanese Golden Era. If you take a look at the Japanese art of the Heian period (794-1185), you will find that animals and lifeless objects were painted with human-like features. The science behind it is that giving faces to inanimate objects is like bringing them to life. Huge eyes and a cute smile can easily arouse the feelings of care and affection, even in the coldest of hearts.

Marui-Ji

Many people believe that the boom of Kawaii culture began in the 1970s when school-going teenage girls introduced a mass movement that revolved around a cute handwriting style. Unlike the traditional Japanese which is written vertically, these girls started writing in a rounded, horizontal manner. They incorporated cute little pictures of stars, hearts, smiley faces, and even Latin alphabets to further decorate their text. This writing style was quickly popularized and termed as ‘marui-ji’ (rounded writing).

Marui-Ji

It was popular among the Japanese youth who used mechanical pencils, as this style ensured finer handwriting compared to the traditional Japanese writing. However, marui-ji stirred quite a lot of controversy.

Teachers and adults reasoned it was difficult to read. Soon enough, its use was forbidden in many schools across the nation. However, historians strongly agree that the true cause for the ban was Japanese authorities seeing this trend as a threat or rebellion against their cultural values and norms.

Hello Kitty!

Hello Kitty!

Another main influence during this time was the irresistibly cute, fictional character of Hello Kitty. Created by Yuko Shimizu in 1974, Hello Kitty is an anthropomorphized form of a Japanese bobtail cat with a red bow on its head. Ever since its inception, it has successfully promoted kawaii and is treated as a Japanese mascot across the globe.

Japanese locals also express their love by calling it Kitty-chan. To date, it appears on T-shirts, stationery and household objects like crockery across many Japanese stores and its demand is rapidly increasing in international markets.

Pokémon

It is impossible to discuss kawaii culture without mentioning Pokémon. Considered as the childhood of the millennials, the Pokémon franchise was created in 1996. It was first introduced as a video game on gaming consoles issued by Nintendo. As its popularity soared among children and teenagers, anime versions of Pokémon were also aired on famous channels.

With each Pokémon based on real animals and overloaded with elements of cuteness, this franchise further promoted the love of kawaii not only in Japan but worldwide too.

Today, it is one of the highest-earning multimedia franchises in the world. With Pokémon Go and Detective Pikachu as latest additions to the family, the love for the Pokémon franchise (and, therefore, kawaii) doesn’t appear to be abating anytime soon.

The Science Behind Kawaii – Why Is It So Famous in Japan?

Although the Japanese love for adorableness may seem childish to many, there are reasons proven through scientific research as to why kawaii is useful and why most Japanese have embraced it as a part of their culture.

Kawaii as a Source of Calmness

In 2012, Hiroshima University conducted a series of experiments in which the performance of students on different tasks was evaluated while they viewed pictures of cute puppies and kittens at the same time. The researchers concluded that the cute images developed positive feelings in the students and, therefore, improved their focus and productivity.

Kawaii as a Source of Calmness

This is why many Japanese employees adorn their workplace with kawaii stuffed toys. The use of cute stationery is also common among students. Parents decorate bedrooms of their children with kawaii-themed items. All this is done to bring some sort of calmness in their usual busy and tiring lives.

Kawaii as an Escape from Reality

Kawaii as an Escape from Reality

Japanese culture is full of contradictions. On one hand, it advocates strict norms and traditions and on the other, it promotes the love for cuteness. Japanese have harsh working schedules and face extreme pressure in schools. They are expected to be strictly professional to the extent that some have to wear uniforms in offices as well. This is why the Japanese prefer to include kawaii in their lifestyle.

Outside of their school and working hours, they like to dress up in cute pieces as it brings a sense of solace and allows them to forget their realities for a while.

Kawaii as an Economic Booster

Kawaii as an Economic Booster

There is no doubt that a huge part of the Japanese economy has flourished since the boom in kawaii culture. Each year, Japanese businessmen export kawaii-themed products all around the world as a result of rise in consumer demand. Pokémon, Hello Kitty, and Pusheen are the perfect examples of such businesses. This shows that the Japanese are aware of the usefulness of their cuteness culture and are taking full advantage of it every single day.

Kawaii in Today’s Japan

Kawaii culture has many forms in today’s Japan. And it’s not only limited to teenage girls now. Men also follow this culture by wearing Kawaii-inspired clothing in purple and pink tones. They shave their legs to create a youthful look and sometimes also wear fake eyelashes and wigs.

Women, on the other hand, achieve the perfect cute look by dyeing their hair in light tones and wearing huge contact lenses as they symbolize innocence. Some may even opt for eye and eyelash surgeries to mimic their desired look.

Kawaii Idols

Kawaii Idols

Although they first emerged in 1980s, the rise of kawaii idols is hugely credited with promoting kawaii culture, especially among the teens of Japan. Kawaii idols are young media figures like singers, models, and actors who frequently appear on TV shows and magazines. They are considered to be adorable and attractive by the public. Famous idol groups include AKB48, Speed, and Momoiro Clover Z.

Lolita Fashion

Lolita Fashion

Lolita fashion is a famous and easily recognizable fashion trend followed in Japan. A combination of Victorian and Rococo styles, young Japanese girls who dress up in Lolita fashion try to achieve a cute and doll-like look by wearing aprons, laces, bows, and ruffles. They also include umbrellas made of the same fabric in their outfit to complete their Lolita look.

Kawaii Technology

Kawaii Technology

Since the Japanese express Kawaii in just about all aspects of life, their technology is also incorporated with kawaii themes. Today, cute and innocent-looking robots and personal computers based on kawaii characters are manufactured and sold widely across Japan. They are made child-like on purpose because they look easy to approach.

Kawaii Mascots

Kawaii Mascots

Almost every company in Japan today has a kawaii mascot. Also known as yuru-chara, these mascots promote businesses, as their cuteness garners both affection and attention from consumers. Even the police force of Tokyo has a kawaii character named Pipo-kun as its mascot.

Kawaii Is Here to Stay

Although kawaii has changed its forms over the past years and is still evolving, it is evident that the culture of cuteness and the love for it in Japanese hearts are here to stay. As time passes, major changes are being made to the culture of kawaii. For instance, dark and gothic content is now also being considered kawaii. This gives an image of cute and punky at the same time.

Kawaii has now become an integral and, one may even say, an identifying element of the Japanese culture that leaving it behind seems almost impossible now.