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.
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