Cuteness in Japanese cultureThis is a featured page

romotional sign for Japan Self-Defense Forces auxiliarySince the 1970s, cuteness (kawaisa) has become a prominent aspect of Japanese culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behaviour, and mannerisms. Western observers often find this cuteness intriguing and sometimes strange because the Japanese employ it in a vast array of situation and demographics where, in Western culture, it would be considered incongruously juvenile or frivolous (for example, in government publication, public service warnings, office environments, military advertisements, and commercial airliners, among many others).


Cute elements can be found almost everywhere in Japan, from big bussiness to corner markets, national governments to ward and town offices. Many companies, large and small, use cute mascots to present their wares and services to the public. For example:
  • Pikachu, a Pokemon character, adorns the side of three All Nippon Airways passenger jets.
  • Asahi Bank used Miffy, a character from a Dutch series of children's picture books, on its ATM cards.
  • Monkichi, a cute monkey character, can be found on the packaging for one line of condoms.
  • All 47 prefectures have cute mascot characters.
  • The Japan Post "Yu-Pack" mascot is a stylized mailbox.
  • The Japan Post also uses other cute mascot characters, for example on stamps.
  • Each police force in Japan have their own cartoon mascots, many of which adorn the front of koban (police boxes).

Cute merchandise is extremely popular in Japan. The two largest manafacturers of such merchandise are Sanrio (manafacturers of "Hello Kitty") and San-X. The 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 colours are commonly (but not always) featured, and accessories often include toys or bags featuring cartoon characters.


As a cultural phenomenon, cuteness is increasingly accepted in Japan as a part of Japanese culture and natonal identity. 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 thats acceptable and desirable in Japan. On the other hand, the minority of Japanese skeptical of cuteness consider it a sign of infantile mentality. In particular, Hiroto Murasawa, professor of beauty and culture at Osaka Shoin Women's University asserts that cuteness is "a mentality that breeds non-assertion... Individuals who choose to stand out get beaten down".


Cute merchandise and products are especially popular in other parts of East Asia, including China, Taiwan, and South Korea. While many of these products are imports from Japan, indigenous creations have also appeared. "Super Cute" things have become so synonymous with Japan that amny people often mistake non-Japanese creations (such as the Korean made Mashimaro) to be Japanese in origin. In some Western cultures, the Japanese word for cute (kawaii) has joined a number of other Japanese words borrowed by Western fans of Japanese pop culture. While the usage is almost entirely limited to the Otaku subculture, it has been used by figures as notable as American singer Gwen Stephani, who gave kawaii a brief mention in her Hollaback Girl music video. The influence of cuteness and manga has also been adopted by several North American businesses. Red Flag Deals has an anime mascot, as does the online car insurance company Esurance in their commercials.

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