lifestyle

Sexism and culture: Japan’s obsession with 'kawaii'

25 Comments
By Ai Faithy Perez

Have you ever wondered why so many Japanese people seem to be completely consumed with everything kawaii? 

Walking into a zakkaya-san, or variety goods store, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of kawaii products — from the plastic pen with cutesy characters and glittery beads to the fluffy sofa blanket with a cute animal face sewn into a pocket in one of the four corners, enabling you to tuck the blanket in.

It seems odd to me, even though I’ve spent most of my life here, that a grown adult would be moved to spend their hard-earned cash on a plastic anime figurine. C’mon, even "Toy Story" did a full 103 minutes about “growing up” and “leaving toys behind”! The fact is, kawaii culture is seen as this innocent part of Japanese culture. Yet if you go beyond the surface with how the root of the word morphed, and examples like how symbols of feminism have to be watered down in Japan, there’s much more to it than it’s glittery exterior.

Where did the word 'kawaii' come from?

A lot of people are used to hear the word “kawaii,” but many don’t really know where it originated, or that the word has evolved greatly over time.

The modern usage of the word translates into “cute”, “lovable” or “adorable.” The original form of the word, however, came with a darker twist. In ancient times the word was kawo-hayu-shi, which literally means, “face flushed.” It described the feelings of “embarrassment, awkwardness, and self-consciousness.” Eventually, the definition took on a different meaning: “can’t leave one alone, to care for.” Embarrassment, awkwardness, and self-consciousness shed their skins in favor of a new one — kawaii.

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

25 Comments
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Kawaii culture may not itself be toxic, but the way people obsess over it here certainly is!

9 ( +12 / -3 )

In youtube, there's a video titled "Born Sexy Yesterday", good watch to understand a little bit about this topic.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree with Katsu above. Also i think women try too much to be cute ans squeaky = weak/submissive and the men try to too hard to be grump and stone headed = strong. Where as in reality neither are true, funny old world.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I find grown women acting childish in order to appear cute very depressing and oppressive. Japanese TV has two female personas, kawaii or loud battleaxe. Both are sexist stereotypes that need to be binned.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

I find grown women acting childish in order to appear cute very depressing and oppressive

The worst part of this is women pretending to be stupid and ignorant. Genuinely stupid and ignorant is genuinely stupid and ignorant, but feigning it is very unattractive. I was once obliged to drink with a group of male and female new staff members, and the women, who were not stupid and ignorant, acted like balloon heads for the evening and then returned to being perfectly capable and intelligent people the next day.

I find this awful habit does lessen with age, although I've seen middle-aged women still trying this on. That's a pathetic sight.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

I think the whole "Problem" with the "Kawaii' " Culture is the PERCEPTION of it from WESTERNERS.

People don't do it for YOUR Amusement / Entertainment / Motives. It's NOT All About YOU.

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

I think the whole "Problem" with the "Kawaii' " Culture is the PERCEPTION of it from WESTERNERS.

People don't do it for YOUR Amusement / Entertainment / Motives. It's NOT All About YOU.

Capital letters, shouting. You want us to see you mean business.

You are also wrong, this oppressive cult of kawaii is about all of us.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

They are basically still children, in emotional terms.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

@WA4TKG

I think the whole "Problem" with the "Kawaii' " Culture is the PERCEPTION of it from WESTERNERS.

People don't do it for YOUR Amusement / Entertainment / Motives. It's NOT All About YOU.

Very "amusing"

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I hate that the West is so obsessed with stamping our morals and standards on every nook and cranny in the World. PC liberal idiots seek to remove areas of culture that they do not approve of, like Morris dancers blacking their faces in the UK. Life in Japan can be really tough so what not let them have their kawaii escapism and keep our often hypocritical cultural criticisms to ourselves.

1 ( +9 / -8 )

Westerners will never be able to understand Japanese thoughts anyway no matter how long they live in Japanese, even with their Japanese partners because they are not real Japanese. I'm not sure how their offsprings would turn out to be though.

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

Zed PhillipsToday  04:52 pm JST

PC liberal idiots seek to remove areas of culture that they do not approve of,

Not a single person in this thread has called for Kawaii culture to be removed.

Life in Japan can be really tough so what not let them have their kawaii escapism

Not a single person in this thread has called to deny Japanese people any kind of escapism.

But do go on, I bet the fantasy thread you'd like this to be is absolutely fascinating.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

...how strong female characters are portrayed to Japanese fans, including the classic Wonder Woman. She is an age-old icon of feminism around the globe made timely because of the 2017 film

You know I was going to be little tongue-in-cheek and accuse the author of being ethnocentric, but after seeing this line in the article I honestly think that it bears some weight. I'm no cultural relativist, but it's pretty blatant that the author is approaching this subject with a lot of cultural biases.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

the wonder woman is a good example, but i would argue someone subjectively believed that the remarketing was suitable.

the concept of kawaii is just something in japanese culture that is taught to people... perhaps part of the obession relates to biology, but much like females obession with diamonds, you're not going to explain it down to a science.

people will obsess over what they want to, such is the society we live in.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Zed Phillips

Why are you talking about people being PC?

People are giving honest and clear opinions about kawaii culture. I thought the criticism of the PC crowd is they refuse to talk honestly and clearly about things ( something which also exasperates me).

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The kawaii culture isn't a 'girls only' thing imo. I see it as an expression of consumerism/materialism, same as otaku spending big bucks on manga characters, model trains, cosplay stuff etc.

I don't 'get it' nor particularly like it but I also don't get ppl who spend all their energy/time/money on what I consider to be 'trivial things'. Each to their own really.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

"Japanese living in America/Europe/Australia/Korea etc will never be able to understand how locals think, no matter how long they live there, even with their foreign partners because they are and always will be Japanese."

The same sentiment, I just expressed it a different way for you.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

I find this awful habit does lessen with age, although I've seen middle-aged women still trying this on. That's a pathetic sight.

Doesn't bother me. Much much more fun to hang out with than the tattooed, lip ringed, nose diamond, pierced belly button with a pot belly sticking out from a shirt that's to small, foul mouthed and crass all in the name of "I'm an individual". That's a pathetic sight.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Much much more fun to hang out with than the tattooed, lip ringed, nose diamond, pierced belly button with a pot belly sticking out from a shirt that's to small, foul mouthed and crass all in the name of "I'm an individual". 

A pretty nasty and bitchy description. Don't take life too seriously. These women can be fun.

Sounds like another Trump voter who wants to go back to the 1950s ;)

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

I suppose its no different from the "vampire" obsession that was prominent in the West a while back (might still be, though I am sure I am not up to date with the latest obsessions there)

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

FizzBitSep. 7  11:21 pm JST

Doesn't bother me. Much much more fun to hang out with than the tattooed, lip ringed, nose diamond, pierced belly button with a pot belly sticking out from a shirt that's to small, foul mouthed and crass all in the name of "I'm an individual". That's a pathetic sight.

You've just demonstrated perfectly the nature of this argument.

The person you replied to criticized women feeling pressure to behave in a manner that limits or hides their potential abilities. Instead of actually addressing the argument that person made, you countered by criticizing any woman who doesn't look in a manner that is personally appealing to you. You did manage to work in a little behavior criticism at the end, but the vast bulk of your complaint is about superficial matters of appearance.

That's what's so frustrating about Kawaii culture being so omni-present in Japan. It's not that cute things are bad, it's that there is a constant undercurrent and pressure to put superficial appearances ahead of having any kind of depth or substance. And it doesn't just affect women. Think of all the otaku guys who collect figurines of anime girls who obsess over their "perfect" appearances, all the while ignoring the real flesh-and-blood women of substance around them. Like Fizzbit, they value the shallow but non-threatening over what's real.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It is indeed pathetic and quite embarrassing to witness - grown women pretending to be 5 years olds. There is nothing attractive or cute on the contrary, I can't think of anything more off putting than that. For any men who fancies a child-wannabe it's borderline pedophilic. If you need a 'escape from reality' I can think of plenty less disturbing activities and hobbies. Sports for instance it's a great way to keep a healthy body and mind.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

 There is nothing attractive or cute on the contrary, I can't think of anything more off putting than that.

Maybe the person with the problem is the one that conflates cute with pedophilia.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Translation: Japan must conform to Western values and sensibilities.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This whole article just seems like the author pretty much saying in a threatening and distorted voice over and over: Get back to work, obey your responsibilities, be a productive member of society, war is peace, emotions are prohibited, fun is a capital offense...

and the rest of the adults are supposed to be the drones constantly working and do the same things over and over and aren't allowed to have fun ever.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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