“Mira, que cute!” is a common Spanish phrase spoken in my hometown, Harlingen, Texas, meaning “Look, how cute!” People usually say this when they are referring to anything that is considered cute, including an adorable puppy, or a pretty dress in a boutique window. This idea of cuteness has quite a broad spectrum of definitions and meanings, which stretches across from the Mexican-American border to the Japanese islands. The Japanese have their own phrase as well, a phrase known as “Kawaii.”
The idea of Kawaii began in the early 1970’s in reference to a type of writing style that girls began to use. They would write with thin mechanical pencils in bigger, rounded characters, while adding little hearts, flowers, or smiley’s alongside their words. This writing epidemic among girls in Japan spread rapidly, and was banned in many places because of its reading difficulty and due to the fact that it strayed from traditional Japanese script. However, in the 1980s, this “cute” writing style came back, but was now being used in advertisements and in the development of products such as Hello Kitty.
Other iconic kawaii role models emerged in the 1980s as well, such as Seiko Matsuda, which drew in not only teenage girls but a wider group of ages, including younger girls and some adults. Fashion, home décor, and merchandise were all falling under this spell of kawaii, and it was spreading more and more rapidly as time passed. This has played a large role on Japanese culture even in big businesses. Brand names like Pokemon use kawaii characters like Pikachu to embrace the cuteness ideal. The Japan Post uses stylish mailboxes and characterized stamps that reflect the idea of kawaii. Even some police forces have mascots that appeal to this name. Almost every area of Japan is touched by kawaii in one sense or another.
I came across this topic of Japanese pop culture in my search for what to blog about for this assignment. And in my mind when I think about all things Japanese, I don’t just think about the traditional garments and old-fashioned culture. I picture the young, pretty Japanese girls in pigtails and plaid skirts, surrounded by colorful flowers and animals with big, beady eyes and sweet smiles. Come to find out, this picture that I had in my mind had a name for itself, which I had no idea about. So in my research, I found a website on modern Japanese culture, where the word “kawaii” kept showing up on posters, advertisements, and signs embedded in the website. When I searched to find out what this word meant, (cute, lovable, adorable, precious, innocent), it became clear to me that this is a very accepted idea in Japan, and is even represented in American culture today, including in movies such as Austin Powers who have cute Japanese girls that are all-consumed in kawaii fashion, persona, and lingo.
I can see how Japanese kawaii fashion and merchandise have drifted over to American pop culture, especially with younger girls. Hello Kitty is also very popular in America, as well as American brands such as Lisa Frank that aren’t necessarily Japanese, but that omit the same cute ideas that kawaii represents. I have even seen how lingo and ideas are used in my hometown’s Mexican culture, as well as American culture. Kawaii represents all things adorable. And even though it is magnified more in Japan, it is still present in the Western world as well due to the Japanese influence and broad acceptance amongst young girls and others alike.