The Cute Japanese Trend Guaranteed to Bring a Smile to Your Face

Add a dash of pure joy to your every day.

Jan 28, 2020

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You know that glowing feeling you experience when you see an irresistibly adorable baby animal picture, or those Japanese cartoon drawings of rabbits that make you smile for a moment? Even the famed Japanese character, Hello Kitty, who first appeared in 1974, and is inspired by the Japanese Bobtail cat. Turns out, there’s a name for all things super cute and loveable: Kawaii, and unsurprisingly, it’s behind one of the most universally popular cultural and aesthetic trends of the new millennium worldwide.

The word Kawaii has evolved over time, but Joshua Paul Dale, professor at Tokyo Gakugei University and coauthor of The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness, told CNN that it boils down to “a pure feeling of unabashed joy taken in the undemanding presence of innocent, harmless, adorable things.”

A cute new take on Japanese heritage

Kawaii has a special place in Japanese pop culture, as the concept brings a unique, child-like flavor to toys, entertainment, movies, fashion, and even food. Its roots began centuries ago. The word dates back to the Golden Age of Japan several hundred years ago. It came to encompass multiple meanings that took in vulnerable, small, cute and loveable. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, when teenage girls used stars, hearts, and emoticons in their handwriting, that the trend really took off. 

According to Japanese researcher, Kazuma Yamane, the teenagers who invented this writing style created something much bigger than a new font. Julia Leyda, for instance, an associate professor at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, maintains that this cutesy trend is now a way for young Japanese children to identify with Japanese society:

“Kawaii is about identity and community, which offers kawaii adherents a sense of social connection. Kawaii also gives Japanese youth an opportunity to express themselves and build social identities,” says Leyda.

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Healthy food made from love!

Kawaii, which carries exclusively positive connotations, has also extended to food. CNN reports that over 1,000 years ago, author and royal court attendant, Sei Shonagon, wrote about a child's face drawn on a melon. Now, any hungry customer can walk into eateries like Tokyo’s Pom Pom Purin café and delight in their insanely ‘cute’ menu offerings. These include rice omelets shaped like a Golden Retriever, or a rice puppy face gently sitting atop a plate of curry.

For an especially heartwarming dish, kawaii meals come in small, separated portions and use colorful ingredients to delight eaters and encourage kids to eat healthy. Think the popular “Bento Boxes”. These are lunchboxes where bright vegetable side dishes sit next to a serving of rice (often in the shape of smiley animals).
And if you think these edible crowd-pleasers are all about aesthetics, think again. Many Japanese mothers use the cuteness as a way of expressing their love to their little ones.

 
 
 
 
 
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Everyone’s sharing the love of things adorable

Taking part in Kawaii culture is even a way to socialize and bond with others who share similar interests. 28-year-old blogger Tartan Kawaii told the BBC’s Newsbeat that the movement is big on social media. "It's good because everybody is on the same level, like with any kind of interest, you just connect so quickly, and you can relax and enjoy their company."

A plethora of hit websites, blogs and books also act as a testament to the uplifting power of cute culture. A recent example is titled This Book is Literally Just Pictures of Cute Animals That Will Make You Feel Better. It’s packed with cats flaunting wigs, sloths dangling casually, “latte art” and more gorgeous animal and feel-good photographs.

Need a small, yet effective way to remind yourself about the power of joy? Look no further than kawaii culture. Whether it’s Pikachu, Hello Kitty, or one of the other dozens of adorable characters, embracing this trend will make any day a little bit brighter. 

(Alena Ozerova / Shutterstock.com)

REBECCA WOJNO, CONTRIBUTOR
Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.