What Does Kawaii Mean In Japanese?

What Does Kawaii Mean In Japanese?

Kawaii is a Japanese term that refers to a cultural style that incorporates bright, pastel colors as well as childlike images. The word Kawaii itself has a meaning that is more or less at the junction of “cute”, “adorable” or “tiny”.

Let’s see together the criteria of this aesthetic that is so special and so dear to Japan, but which has been contaminating the rest of the world for more than a decade.

Kawaii, the cute, ubiquitous in Japanese daily life

Kawaii, the cute, ubiquitous in Japanese daily life

Although the term kawaii is often reduced to “something cute”, it is necessary to clarify that it goes far beyond simple body representation. In Japan, kawaii is found in almost everything and anything. Of course, the first image that comes to mind is that of women’s fashion. However, “cuteness” is also fashioned in men’s fashion and much more.

This is how we can qualify almost all everyday objects as kawaii, if they have the appropriate characteristics. For example, a car can be, as can a bento box , a pen or a microwave. More than by its function, it is especially by its appearance and the image that it returns that we can designate it as a kawaii element or not.

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Physical facilities can similarly be considered cute. But in Japan, this is exacerbated, on the one hand by the expression, but also by the sometimes limitless allure of certain stores. Regional mascots like Kumamon, cities or shops like Donko and Donpen are also emblematic components of kawaii culture.

The essential element of kawaii culture is undoubtedly Hello Kitty, which is also called Kitty-chan. The white feline character has been sporting a constantly expanding range of products and accessories for several decades. The figure was commissioned by the Sanrio company from Shintaro Tsuji in 1974.

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But actually, almost every work in Japanese pop culture tries to launch a cute icon that can affirm minds. Pikachu is a historical example, it marked the world and it is recognizable in the four corners of the globe.

The manga world is full of lovable characters who easily claim themselves from kawaii culture, like Happy from Fairy Tail. Video games are no exception to the rule with atypical figures like Pikmin or LocoRoco.

In short, we can say that kawaii has quickly established itself as a commercial and marketing element of the first order. In addition to being a seller, a cute icon allows you to strengthen your brand image and capitalize on it in order to produce a successful license.

Nintendo has specialized in kawaii characters in particular to better target its family audience. Sony, another Japanese video game company, seems to want to catch up and offer new figures like Astrobot on Playstation 5.

Kawaii and beautiful are different

Kawaii and beautiful are different

The Japanese do not use the same expressions and vocabularies to qualify the cute and the beautiful. We grant you, the difference is sometimes negligible and does not correspond to what we would have used in English.

With that being said, it’s important to note that kawaii has a connotation of youth and innocence, which is more about the adorable. Beauty is anchored above all around the magnificent with adjectives like “utsukushii” or “bijin” for “beautiful woman.

It is for this reason that it is very often inappropriate to qualify an adult person as kawaii. Even if it is considered cute, it can cause discomfort and misunderstandings. This is especially true for grown men, but also applies to women: characterizing a lady as kawaii doesn’t just highlight her adorable side. The latter may think that it sends back an infantile, naive or even immature image!