View Full Version : History of 'kawaii no koto'?

J. A. Crippen
14th April 2002, 14:00
I was just pondering the emphasis that modern Japan seems to place on 'kawaii', on women being cute rather than, say 'sexy'. Is this a modern phenomenon? Or is there historical precedent? Were bijin in prewar/Meiji Japan or in feudal Japan considered 'kawaii' or was this epithet used primarily for children as the related 'cute' is in English?

Or am I just suffering from a misinterpretation or bad translation? Does 'kawaii' really have a 'sexy' connotation as well as a 'cute' connotation? (And should this then be moved to the Language forum?)

I wish the American media appreciated cuteness in adult women as much as the Japanese media did. It'd be a nice change from the blowdried silicone blonde stereotype...

15th April 2002, 00:20
Kawaiiiiiii is my favorite pet hate word. Just about everything is Kawaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii in Japan. Could be a building or a train if its too nicey, nicey. The smilies next to this box are kawaiiiii :smash:

The design of the ebudo forumn is Kawaiiiiii

Worst of all I frequently get called Kawaiiiiiiiii


If I wanted to insult somebody the word kawaiiii is just about the best word I can think of. Imagine you doing your best strong jujutsu technique then when the spectators pass comment someone says it was Kawiiiiiiii? I think Kowai is perhaps the word you were hoping for.

It cannot be directley translated as "cute" relating to babies, puppies, kittens and cute girls.

There is a fascination with childlike qualities here too which would perhaps be considered unhealthy in other countries. Girls and women do deliberately push the kawaiiiiiiiii image as it fits in with the Japanese men who try to talk in very deep voices and push the macho image away from the fact that most of them are mummys boys who couldnt find the kitchen or clean up if their life depended on it.

Right now someone has persuaded the office lady to boil some noodles. He forgot to bring the packed lunch mummy/wife had prepared for him and cant boil the hot water himself. She will perhaps garnish it with a slice of fish suasage. He will immediately describe this as Kawaii too

Relating this to sexuality could mean perhaps someone likes girls with lollypops or have a preference for School Uniforms.

Hyakutake Colin

p.s. I added the i's as people usually add this this screeching iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii sound at the end of the word.

J. A. Crippen
15th April 2002, 11:42
Your little hammer bashing guy was very kawaiiiiiiiii...

Why in the world would people call an ugly mug like you kawaii? Definitely kowai. Hehehe...

Indeed I decidedly agree with you that Japan has an unhealthily strong fascination with 'kawaii'. I wouldn't go so far as to call it infantilism, but certainly childishness. But what I don't really understand is where this fascination came from. Is it something modern? Like in the last 50 years? Is it something that has deep seated roots in Japanese culture and history? Or is it just random, with no real reason for coming into existence other than it did?

There's gotta be someone who's done a sociological study on Japan's fascination with childishness and cuteness. I mean, it's so obvious to anyone who takes more than a passing glance at Japanese media. And it's really at odds with the rest of the postindustrial societies.

Do any armchair sociologists want to take a stab at explaining the 'kawaii' phenomenon?

P Goldsbury
15th April 2002, 21:39
I am not sure about sociological surveys, but the following books in English might cast some light on the question:

Ian Buruma, "Behind the Mask" (1984, Pantheon Books);
Takie Sugiyama Lebra, "Japanese Women, Constraint and Fulfillment (1984, University of Hawaii Press);
Gail Lee Bernstein, "Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945" (1991, University of Califoria Press),
Nicholas Bornoff, "Pink Samurai" (1991,Grafton Books);
Brian J McVeigh, "Life in a Japanese Women's College: Learning to be Ladylike" (1997, Routledge). This is the closest thing to a sociological survey.

P A Goldsbury,
Graduate School of Social Sciences,
Hiroshima University

J. A. Crippen
16th April 2002, 07:02
I'm off to the library now... Thanks!

17th April 2002, 21:48

You can also look to the novels of Yoshimoto Banana, as an exemplar of shojo culture (female fixation on cuteness f.e Hello Kitty and all that good stuff). She does focus on death alot though, which is hardly in step with shojo superfluity (am I being fair here?). Her novels have been likened to much of the manga (comics) intended for a young female readership.