It was 2010 when Takashi Murakami, a worldly contemporary artist, proposed for a “strategic ‘Cool Japan’ method of production in the art world,” leading to the appearance of the Cool Japan Advisory Council at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2010. While Cool Japan is Japan’s all-nation effort to spread its influence in an international setting, the various cultures that Japanese people describe as “kawaii” may be familiar as a part of daily life and sensation.
We have collected interesting aspects about the “kawaii” culture, its uniqueness from an international perspective, and its charms which continues to attract fans even from abroad.
“Kawaii is different from cute”
It is not an exaggeration to say that “kawaii” is one of the many words that represent Japan to the world. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “kawaii” is directly quoted, and foreigners understand its true meaning as “a word that cannot be described with ‘cute'” or “a word that surpasses ‘cute’.”
However, the meaning of “kawaii” could greatly differ due to the different nuances individuals associate with it. More specifically speaking, it has always been said that the meaning behind “kawaii” differs greatly even among Japanese people, due to differences of their gender or their age. Moreover, the meaning and nuances have spread infinitely, such as the words “dasai (old, outdated, uncool) + kawaii= dasakawaii” or “kimoi (gross, repulsive, unattractive) + kawaii= kimokawaii” which have derived from “kawaii.”
“How ‘kawaii’ has evolved”
Ultimately, the original Japanese meaning of “kawaii” is “cute.”
Moreover, there are also theories suggesting that the origin of kawaii is “wokashi” found in the ancient text “The Pillow Book” by Sei Shounagon.
(“‘Kawaii’ Theory” by Inuhoki Yomota) (Chikuma Shinsho/ 2006)
When “Kawaii”= “Wokashi” in The Pillow Book, one can feel the nuance between pointing to some type of “immaturity” and describing it “kawaii.” Some scholars interpret as Japan’s unique ability to recognize beauty that is “incomplete, asymmetrical, and uneven” which is different from Greece’s interpretation of beauty as being “complete, symmetrical, even.”
Derived from this original meaning, the modern “kawaii” generally holds a unique and diverse amount of meanings. While even saying “kawaii” could hold various meanings for the individual, it makes sense that this culture evolved distinctly in Japan when we understand that the Japanese sense of beauty is being influenced from the Heian times.
“Today’s ‘kawaii’ evolution”
The large “kawaii” culture found in modern Japan can be largely divided into “Aomoji Kei” and “Moe Kei.”
1.Founded in Harajuku: Aomoji Kei culture
aomoji kei. Those who know it have expansive knowledge on it, but there may be many others to whom this term sounds unfamiliar. The term aomoji kei is said to be named by Mr. Nakagawa Yusuke of Asobi System, and it is said to point to unique, unrealistic, and girly fashion and culture often found in Harajuku and magazines such as “Zipper” and “CUTiE.” The aomoji kei “kawaii” culture that treats Harajuku as the mecca mainly consists of fashion that does not try to please men, but rather to receive compliments saying “kawaii” from other women. This is the “kawaii” culture that spread to not only Asia, but also to the Western world by people like “Kyari Pamyupamyu.”
2.Founded in Akihabara: Moe Kei culture
The “kawaii” culture based off of manga and anime is centered around Akihabara. This “kawaii” culture associated with “otaku” and “moe kei” may be the most well known “kawaii” culture in the world.
Other than these examples, there are many forms of cultures described as “kawaii” such as cultures that target a wide range of ages such as Sanrio characters and the fashionable culture shown in events of Tokyo Girls Collection. The diversity could also be another reason why the “kawaii” culture has spread so much to the world.
“Many new appearances! A new standard to the ‘kawaii’ culture!”
Harajuku’s new tourist spot, the “KAWAII MONSTER CAFE HARAJUKU” which opened in August of 2015, is a new conceptual restaurant packed with Harajuku’s “kawaii culture, and an experimental space that represents “kawaii.” BABYMETAL which is starting to take over the world could also be argued as being derived from the “kawaii” culture.
On the other hand, the power of cultural transmitters such as Harajuku and Akihabara is overpowering. By visiting these places and walking around the city, you may be able to encounter a new “kawaii” culture that you did know about. It may be fun for you to experience the culture in person.
This post is also available in: Japanese