Where construction meets cuddliness.
Since the 1970s, cuteness (可愛さ kawaisa) has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior, iconography and mannerisms. Foreign observers can find this cuteness odd because the Japanese are stereotypically seen as stoic and employ it in a vast array of situations and demographics where, in other cultures, it would be considered incongruously juvenile or frivolous (public service warnings, office environments, commercial airlines, government publications — even military advertisements
), though this perception does seem to be changing.
The word "kawaii" in Japanese has a broader definition than the English word "cute". When applied to pop culture, "cute" will suffice; however "kawaii" refers primarily to the affection of a parent toward a child coupled with the protectiveness for the innocent and weak. Thus a pop cartoon character is considered "kawaii" because it exemplifies the innocence of a child and evokes general protective, caring instincts in the viewer. Other translations of "kawaii" can include "precious", "lovable", "adorable" or "innocent". Can easily mean "Tastes Like Diabetes
". It could be considered a factor on why the Christmas Cake trope
exists. Cuteness saturates Japanese culture so much that one can call this "The Cult of Cute". Just like being sexy is considered desirable for Western women, this is considered a desirable trait for a Japanese woman. Women in their twenties or even thirties might use a high-pitched voice simply because it sounds cute, despite the rest of the world finding it rather weird.
Cute elements can be found almost everywhere in Japan, from big business to corner markets and national government, ward and town offices. Many companies, large and small, use cute mascots to present their wares and services to the public.
Cute merchandise is extremely popular in Japan. The two largest manufacturers of such merchandise are Sanrio (manufacturers of Hello Kitty
) and San-X (manufacturers of "Kogepan", "Nyan Nyan Nyanko" and "Rilakkuma"). This character merchandise is a hit with Japanese children and adults alike.
Cute can be also used to describe a specific fashion sense
of an individual, and generally includes clothing that appears to be made for young children, outside of the size, or clothing that accentuates the cuteness of the individual wearing the clothing. Ruffles and pastel colors are commonly (but not always) featured, and accessories often include toys or bags featuring anime characters. The popularity of Bishōnen
may be partly based on this.
Japan traditionally has had a fascination with beauty. Tomoyuki Sugiyama, author of "Cool Japan
", believes that "cuteness" is rooted in Japan's harmony-loving culture, and Nobuyoshi Kurita, a sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo, has stated that "cute" is a "magic term" that encompasses everything that's acceptable and desirable in Japan.
On the other hand, those skeptical of this "cuteness" consider it a sign of an infantile mentality. Hiroto Murasawa, professor of beauty and culture at Osaka Shoin Women's University, calls cuteness "a mentality that breeds non-assertion ... Individuals who choose to stand out get beaten down." Controversially, some have suggested that Japan's brutal defeat in World War II
bred this mentality, viewing it as the only way to explain how the warrior culture of Imperial Japan
did a complete 180° in just a couple of generations.
art movement was begun by Japanese artists who began using Grotesque Cute
and its related tropes
as a satirical comment on the culture's obsession with cuteness. Their philosophy relates it to the inevitable conflict between Eastern and Western ethical and artistic traditions — a conflict in which all of Japan has been living for well over a century.
Cute merchandise and products are especially popular in some parts of east Asia, such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. In America, however, the opposite applies
This phenomenon probably explains why it's hard to pin down the ages of anime
characters, particularly females, as they tend to combine young characteristics (wide eyes, overall cuteness/vulnerability) with 'older' characteristics (such as disproportionate intelligence, wisdom... or breasts). See "Generic Cuteness
" for related information.
In Japanese culture, the polar opposite of this is Hentai
(although the two can and have overlapped
Kawaisa underlies these tropes:
Anime and Manga
- Pikachu adorns the side of three All Nippon Airways passenger jets.
- Hello Kitty
- Paranoia Agent is a long study in the dark side of Kawaisa aesthetics, implying that the real reason for its success is the generalized immaturity of the current generation — or, for those of you who like shorter words, the problem is that Japan simply will not grow the fuck up.
- This article from Psychology Today came to the same conclusion. It's worth noting that according to it, Kawaisa has a somewhat ancient pedigree—simply because Japan's constant social stratification needed something to soften the edges. Kawaisa: Feudalism's version of a rollover bug?
- Haruhi Suzumiya: Mikuru's defining characteristic is that Kyon thinks she is cute. Really really cute. He goes on and on about it. After that there's something about being a time traveller but Nagato and her (Mikuru's) adult form are usually the ones to take care of that. Oh, and there was one more thing but it's classified.
- The Tachikomas from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex are six-foot-tall spider-tanks equipped with autonomous AIs, gatling guns, and grenade launchers. They work for an elite counter-terrorism task force. They have rounded edges, a bright blue paint scheme, and the voices and personalities of six-year-old children. They're the most adorable weapons ever.
- It is telling that the Tachikomas can be cute while still looking like completely pragmatically designed and functional weapons, their cuteness having more to do with their voices and personalities than anything else. Further, it is a credit to the writers, art directors, and animators that they can maintain their cuteness without clashing with an otherwise relatively serious and realistically animated series.
- Saito Ayaka is the queen of kawaisa. Apparently, her voice is soft and high-pitched even for a female seiyuu.
- Potemayo (the series) is very, very cute and very, very weird. Potemayo herself is a 2-foot-tall blob of moe features who acts like a 8-year-old... and was found in a fridge.
- The Japanese artist Mari-chan specializes in this kind of iconography but it's a Nightmare Fuel version of kawaisa!
- Junko Mizuno's work is in this vein, as well. Her twisted fairy-tale Cinderalla, for instance, casts the heroine's cruel stepmother and stepsisters as zombies, and Cinderalla has to be magically transformed into a zombie for her big chance to meet the handsome zombie prince. Instead of dropping a glass slipper at midnight, Cinderalla drops her eyeball.
- Here's an excerpt taken from her Wikipedia article about her art style, which "mixes childish sweetness and cuteness with blood and terror".
- Parodied in the Battle Royale film, where the rules of the titular deathmatch are explained by a cute and cheerful young woman (better known as Asuka). When she finds that the weapon in her pack is an axe, she exclaims, "This one's super-lucky!" Much of the film's atmosphere comes from the juxtaposition of brutal violence with school-age drama over popularity and crushes.
- Asahi Bank used Miffy, a character from a Dutch series of children's picture books, on some of its ATM and credit cards.
- Toyama Daiichi had Paddington Bear.
- Monkichi, a cute monkey character, can be found on the packaging for a line of condoms.
- All 47 prefectures have cute mascot characters.
- The Japan Post "Yū-Pack" mascot is a stylized mailbox. The Japan Post also uses other cute mascot characters, for example, on stamps.
- Some police forces in Japan have their own moe mascots, which sometimes adorn the front of koban [police boxes].
- Several Japanese-language blogs have this.
- This is, supposedly, the reason why babies are so adorable; teddy bears show a marked trend towards cuteness, and research has proved that this is to get the adults to buy them as a gift (the kids themselves didn't seem to care as long as they got a fun toy).
- Strangely, parts of this seem to be headed towards being a Undead Horse Trope — for example, the taste for high-pitched female voices has faded to the point that it's not heard much anymore.
- The Kirby series plays with this interestingly. While most of its inhabitants carefree and Dreamland is pretty much an idyllic paradise, it is always constantly being invaded by dark forces and Eldritch Abominations, some of which even possess said cute inhabitants. Things tend to get dramatically serious when the lives of the Dreamlanders are at stake, and Kirby himself changes gears from being just a cute moeblob to the assertive Bad Ass.
- Many Video Games, so much so that many foreign video games don't do well in Japan. The main reason for this is because western video game characters are considered "ugly" by Japanese standards.
- Notably, Ratchet & Clank got a cuteness makeover that was basically the inverse of American Kirby Is Hardcore. The second game was a pack-in for the PS2.
- The cultural dissonance in video games between Japan and America is very noticeable in Nie R. Two versions of essentially the same game were made and marketed distinctly for American and Japanese audiences. The American version has a gruff, hard male protagonist, while the Japanese version has an effeminate, sensitive male protagonist. Again, these two characters are, essentially, the same character in both games.
- Moogles in the Final Fantasy games seems to serve no other purpose than cutifying wherever they exist.
- Western example: contrast the cutesy, kawaii designs of the Chinese truck◊ in Trackmania United with, for example, the Adri?Fern?ez◊-like◊ design of the Mexican stadium racer.
- Pushmo gushes this out the ears.
- Fellow Intelligent Systems series Panel De Pon possibly rivals the Kirby series for the title of Most Adorable Nintendo Franchise, to the point that Panel de Pon DS/Planet Puzzle League, which excised the use of any fairy characters (but did feature protagonist Lip's stage as an unlockable), was criticized in its home country for not being cute enough.
- The beta flash game Whirled has been having a war over this. Statics, avatars that are non-moving sprites or images, are fighting pretty much the other majority. Not including regular, Kawaii, Chibi (Famous artist: Kristie Kraiser, her site is www.insanitycentral.com), and the dreaded TOFUS(default avatars). DUN DUN DUUUUUN.
- Can Yui Horie make Need for Speed Kawaii? You be the judge.
- The Ace Attorney series has the Blue Badger◊, Ridiculously Cute Critter mascot of the game's police department's criminal affairs division. Just another Widget poking holes in the localization's "canon" that the game takes place in America.
- The sentry turrets from Portal are the cutest sentry turrets ever. They will kill you with cute. And then bullets.
- The whole premise of Kawaiinot is to parody this trope.
- The Powerpuff Girls' popularity in Japan is due in part to this.
- Reportedly Chip and Dale are the most popular Disney characters in Japan; no doubt this is why. Stitch is also very popular.
- ChalkZone was one of Nick Japan's most popular shows. No surprise there.