by Francesca Burke
Learning about new cultures has always been fascinating to me. It offers an opportunity to immerse yourself into a life that you are unfamiliar with and helps to improve your outlook on other countries and ethnicities. All cultures are interesting in their own ways but, a little over a year ago, I discovered one that would change my life: kawaii. The culture originates from Japan and the word kawaii often translates to cute in Japanese. Most people have probably seen kawaii products, stores, and clothing before, but it also comes with a rich history that not many people know about. If you love foreign lifestyles like I do, prepare yourself to learn about kawaii – the culture of cute.
The word kawaii dates back to the Heian Period, also called the Golden Age of Japan, which began in the year 794! Kawaii is said to have originated from the word kaohayushi, which describes someone’s face when it is flushed and red from embarrassment. The pronunciation of kaohayushi soon became kawayushi, which has a whole new meaning. Kawayushi can mean many things such as lovable, cute, and small. During the Muromachi Period, beginning in 1336, kawayushi eventually became kawaii, typically meaning cute and lovable. According to this history, kawaii (or its variations) has been a part of the Japanese language for almost 1,227 years!
The word kawaii is not just associated with the pop-culture movement. In Japan, kawaii can be used as a form of love, praise, kindness, and is often a filler word in girls’ conversations. Kawaii can mean different things to different people, which is one of the things I like most about it. You get to come up with your own definition!
Kawaii products are often pink or soft pastel colors. The clothes have fun patterns that allow one to stand out in a crowd. Kawaii stationery has become very popular along with hairdos and makeup looks. The fashion is very distinct and recognizable, but it is also unlike anything you have ever seen. Some popular media examples of kawaii are Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and Animal Crossing.
Kawaii culture emerged from Japanese student protests in the late 1960s. The protests were largely centered around US-Japan relations, but some students branched off from this and protested how a proper Japanese adult was supposed to behave. Moving into the 1970s, teenage girls started a movement that began with challenging how Japanese was typically written. These girls used a large, round, and childlike font and wrote horizontally instead of the typical style, vertically. They also adorned their characters with hearts, stars, and faces. This style of writing was seen as appalling and banned at most schools. However, this unique style (often called marui-ji, koneko-ji, or burikko-ji) became the precursor for emojis!
SEXISM AND KAWAII
Another common opinion about kawaii culture is that it promotes a weak and childish girl or woman. Some view it as girls brainwashing themselves to be cute and innocent while succumbing to what men want them to be. It is seen as a beauty standard and a responsibility for what is holding Japan back from having a population of strong and independent women. After doing some research on opinions from both sides of the argument, I disagree with this view. Kawaii may promote cute and lovable things, but there is certainly no handbook on what character traits make a ‘kawaii girl’. If someone likes kawaii culture and wants to immerse themselves in it, that shouldn’t define their work ethic or independence. Kawaii is not simply a trend, and there is no right or wrong way to dress or act if you want to be a part of it. It is all about surrounding yourself with things that make you happy and it should not look the same to different people. I believe it should become more normalized to be a strong woman in society while also holding on to a childlike sense of wonder, something kawaii culture fosters.
Kawaii is simply about liking cute things. It is meant to bring joy, happiness, and fun to one’s life. There are different ways to embrace it and, if you are interested, you should follow a path that seems right for you. Personally, I really enjoy kawaii stationery and plushies. Kawaii culture was created to challenge social norms and to prove that women can be powerful while liking cute and adorable things, like breakfast foods with little faces on them 🙂