For some, the word “cute” might mean as is, just a word. It’s even difficult to really explain the meaning of the word. It’s that kind of word that is so normal, so common, that people naturally know what it means and what it pertains to. But, for Japan, the word “cute” is not just any word. And if we put it in the words of an active Twitter user, it is a cultural reset.
In Japanese, the word “cute” roughly translates to the word “kawaii” and is one of the most used word in the Japanese language. Even though it is mainly used to describe anything endearingly cute, it is also a widely celebrated culture. At first, it was mainly popular in Japan but because of its strong influence over the Japanese, it spread throughout the different parts of the world and has enchanted various aspects such as food, fashion and art among many others.
If it is as influential as it seems to be, it really makes us wonder, where did it really began?
The Etymology of Kawaii
The word kawaii, despite its simple meaning of being cute, unexpectedly has quite a history. It is believed to have originated from the word kaohayushi which roughly describes a face flushed red from guilt or embarrassment. However, the word kaohayushi over the years has been changed into kawayushi and with that, its meaning altered as well. The word kawayushi now has various meanings such as embarrassing, vulnerable, small, cute, and lovable. By the Muromachi period, some years laters, kawayushi turned into kawaii, now meaning cute and lovable, and has stayed that way until the present time of 2021.
The History of Kawaii
The emergence of kawaii all began in 1970 and it was all because of a certain change in handwriting. In the 1970's, specifically after World War 2, teenage girls began using mechanical pencils and started altering their handwriting. These mechanical pencils produce very thin lines, opposing to the traditional writing that has a variety of thickness and is written vertically. The girls also started writing in big and round characters, adding hand drawing pictures and symbols such as hearts, stars and tiny faces (which are actually, if we describe it in the modern time of 2021, emojis.)
However, this kind of writing is deeply frowned upon. Teenage girls started using this handwriting in school, and have even added the cute faces and shapes to go with it, which made it extremely difficult to read and understand. This resulted in controversies and was even banned from being used in schools.
By the 1980’s, magazines, packaging and comics had adapted this “cute” handwriting which eventually led to its rising popularity.
One of the first icons that really helped spread the kawaii culture into the world is someone, or something, that we all know and are very familiar with. I’ve seen individuals spend their money on vintage collectibles and even travel the world and collect every piece of this iconic cat. She’s cute, she’s famous, and she’s legendary. She is Hello Kitty, the kawaii culture’s ambassador.
With Sanrio giving birth to Hello Kitty, several characters followed suit, like Pusheen the cat, the Pokemon hero Pikachu and Keroppi, continuing her legacy and spreading the kawaii culture to the world.
The Impact of Kawaii Culture
In terms of fashion, the kawaii culture is definitely a sight to see. Over the years, the kawaii fashion has traveled the world and has dominated individuals who especially like fashion with the tint of pastel and aesthetic. Baby doll dresses, jumpers, comfortable hoodies with animal ears, short pleated skirts are some of the clothing that can be associated with kawaii.
One of the good things about kawaii clothes is that they can be used in almost all occasions. They are pleasing to the eyes, due to the collection being in pastel colors, and can be worn in a casually or a formal setting.
With clothes like these, you are basically a walking aesthetic!
One of the most famous theme of kawaii fashion is Lolita. These types of clothes are dreamy, princessy and fairy-tale like. Lolita fashion is a combination of a blouse, usually frilly and with puffy sleeves, with a skirt of either bell-shaped or A-line.You can read more about it in the Harajuku Fashion Style.
Now, let’s talk about food. I’m telling you, food with the hint of kawaii is no joke as these are the type of food that you don’t want to eat. The reason being? They are just too cute. Imagine, rice shaped into a bear, sausages formed into octopus, omelette with a cute face!
Cafes and restaurants which offer food with a hint of kawaii are scattered in the whole of Japan. It would be an amazing experience to be even served with one kawaii dish. It’s Instagrammable and definitely worth sharing to everyone.
One of the reasons why Japan is so in love with the kawaii culture is that Japan is full of individuals who work long hours and are under enormous pressure. As the Japanese are extremely hardworking and pours all their heart and soul to their work, the cuteness relieves them of that tiredness as it is the exact opposite of the harshness they are experiencing from work and school.
Kawaii Japan Travel Guide
Obviously, the very place where kawaii originated will surely be kawaii-infested (in a good way, of course.) All throughout Japan, kawaii-infused cafes, stores, restaurant, theme parks and souvenir shops are scattered. Rest assured, wherever you are in Japan, there’s also a thing or two related to anything kawaii.
In Harajuku, we have the largest Daiso in the whole of Tokyo. To say it simply, it’s a store. But what makes it superior to other stores? It’s filled with kawaii products. And you might wonder, okay yeah it’s filled with kawaii products. Kawaii products are everywhere though? Well, Daiso is one extremely cheap store. And by cheap, I mean kawaii products all at 100 yen and in US dollars, it’s 96 cents. It’s easy to be tempted to splurge all your money in here!
Harajuku is also the home to a whole lot of kawaii-themed stores. They have Loft, which could be a dream to stationary lovers and Shibuya 109, a department store filled to the brim of cute fashion and beauty items targeting young women.
Remember that iconic cat I’ve been telling you about? The ambassador of the kawaii culture? Yes, Hello Kitty. If you’re a fan, I have a place for you. In Tama New Town, they have Sanrio Puroland, or in other words, Hello Kitty fans’ paradise.) And according to Kawaii Travel Guide, it’s a place to satisfy your needs for cuteness.
This one is for the Pokemon lovers, located at Ikeburo’s Sunshine City Mall and Tokyo Solamachi, this place is Pokemon Centre. The popularity of this place skyrockets every passing day, the stock changes every now and then and popular items sell out in a day or two. If you want to have first pick one the products, make sure you visit their website to see when they’ll release their new collection.
Kawaii Things to do in Japan
If you weren’t planning to do any of these, are you really in Japan? Here are some kawaii things to do while you are in a trip to Japan. You might think about it your whole life if you don’t try at least a thing or two in this list!
If you are a fan of these small creatures, don’t ever miss this cafe! This is the only place where you can play, touch and have your heart melted by this little creatures.
You’ve seen them in anime, in J-dramas, in scenic Japanese pictures but fear not! For you have a chance to wear them. It is a classic thing to try once you are in Japan. Don’t forget to put this in your bucket list!
I am very sure that you have nail artists and nail technicians all around you. But hear this, Japanese nail artists and technicians are known worldwide to be very skilled and precise with their line of work. Moreover, having your nail art done in Japan is actually cheaper than anywhere else in the world.
The iconic cat has once again appeared and is out there to steal your hearts! Do you remember Sanrio Puroland? Near that is the Keio Plaza Hotel and they offer hotel rooms decorated with everything Hello Kitty. Wallpaper? Hello Kitty. Carpet? Hello Kitty. If you are a fan, make sure to at least sleepover this iconic hotel.
This! While strolling the streets of Harajuku, you might find a Lolita dress or two that will totally catch your eye. Wear it confidently and roam Japan with it. Better yet, have your make-up and hair done to totally match that Lolita vibe. Of course, that legendary dress with Japan’s scenery? 1,000 hearts!