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Kawaii (かわいい) is a Japanese term and aesthetic referring to the unique concept affirming childlike and pretty things that make your heart flutter. However, different from the English word "cute", it is peculiar in that it's so diversified that it spawned many subgenres which often are far removed from the original concept. For example, Gurokawa refers to "creepy cute" things and Erokawa to everything "erotic but cute" that appeals to the sexual desire.

The concept of kawaii is often misunderstood in foreign countries and often wrongly applied to anything "chibi". [1]

History

In ancient Japanese, the words “kawayushi” (かはゆし) and “kaohayushi” (かほはゆし) were used. Different to the nowadays "kawaii", they were associated with a negative image, referring to something "so pitiable one can't stand it". Later on, those words were replaced by "kawaii" and started to take on a positive strength, instead of being seen as a weakness. [2] However, before the term became used the way it is now, it was mainly used by men to objectify women, and during the 60s, it was very common to be catcalled "Kawaiko-chan" (かわい子ちゃん), which is similar to the English "cutie". Later on, the meaning of "kawaii" changed once again when women reclaimed the term by starting to use it to describe everything that is just like them: cute. [3]

In the 70s, the number of people who use the term "kawaii" exploded, resulting in the birth of kawaii culture. The Japanese word "kawaii", which previously was just an adjective, has come to have symbolic value. During that time, the company Sanrio gave birth to Hello Kitty, which soon would become one of the most iconic "kawaii" characters in history. Beyond that, "non-standard girlish script" (変体少女文字) was introduced as the typeface in 1974, and this overly cute writing style became so popular among high school girls, teachers started to have issues reading their homework. Another change of that time was among girl's manga magazines. Previously, they mostly came with posters and stickers of popular boy groups, similar to western girl's magazines, but in 1975 this changed to "kawaii" stationary goods with characters from the mangas printed on them.[4]

In 1982, the magazine "Olive" (オリーブ) was launched by Heibon Publishing (now Magazine House) and gave birth to the first wave of "kawaii revolution" (かわいい革命) as well as "otome" culture. The fans of the magazine dolled themself up in ribbons and frills, lace, floral prints, and other girly styles. Popular with those girls that idolized its style were brands that gave off a fairytale-like feel, such as Pink House by designer Isao Kaneko. The designer did not hesitate spreading the new meaning of "kawaii" as "by women for women" which is precisely why the brand has been considered a leader of spreading kawaii culture ever since. Its followers would collect things that appealed to their sense of cuteness and mix them, expressing their individuality, and this is would evolve into what is referred to as Harajuku or kawaii fashion nowadays. [5]

Visuals

This section is under construction

Kawaii visuals are in a range of colors, but are most commonly associated with pastels, with white as a neutral and pink as the most popular color. However, this is not necessary in all of this aesthetic's visuals, as different examples show that this is not the case; for example, neons with Decora and black with some Sanrio characters. Lighting is always bright, with few to no shadows. Photo-editing is highly utilized in kawaii, as people often add additional stickers and sparkles, enlarge their eyes, and smoothen the photo to look more maximalist and hyper-cute.

Totoro-themed bento box

Sweets are a common visual motif in kawaii. These can include cakes, macaroons, flan, cotton candy, iced cookies, ice creams, parfaits, boba and other beverages. These sweets are done in the Japanese style with specific references to the culture, such as having the food shaped like certain characters, elaborate whipped cream decorations, purin pudding, etc., as opposed to Western sweets. Decorations are mandatory, with multiple textures and colors present via sprinkles, drawn-on icing, etc. Strawberries are an incredibly common motif due to repeated use in early artworks and merchandise.[6] Additionally, savory foods may appear in the form of bento boxes with food shaped as different characters. Nature-inspired motifs, such as skies, flowers, and small critters, are also very commonplace in form of minimalistic drawn stars, clouds, rainbows, butterflies, and cherry blossoms.

Anthropomorphic illustrated characters, are the most unique and recognizable feature of the aesthetic. The most popular characters originate from the Japanese company Sanrio, which created Hello Kitty, Cinnamon Roll, My Melody, and more that can be viewed here. Another popular company would be San-x, with characters like Rilakkuma, Sumikko Gurashi, Sentimental Circus, Mamegoma and more, which can be viewed here. Other examples include care bears , Moomins, Pusheen the cat, various Animal Crossing characters, and different Pokémon such as Pikachu and Squirtle. There are multiple commonalities between these kawaii characters; many of them are simple in design, with features that are simultaneously distinct enough to be different from other competing characters, but also following the guidelines in character design that make characters look friendly and child-like. These include round bases for bodies, large eyes and heads with small arms, and a lack of intense shadow and angularity. These characters' immense popularity allows them to easily be marketed as mechandise, with a variety of stationery, home goods, clothing, and even large vehicles such as airplanes.

Human characters could also be classified as kawaii if they are innocent and childlike. These are called Moe, and tend to come from anime and manga, as the trope is from Japanese pop culture. Like the critters, these characters have large eyes, round shapes, and unique colors and outfit designs. Their intense and open displays of emotion are related to people's affection for them, and often appear as either helplessness and/or upbeat cheerfulness.[7] Gifs of these moe characters often appear in kawaii blogs.

Media

TV Shows and movies

  • Sugar Bunnies
  • Jewelpet
  • Onegai My Melody
  • Tottoko Hamtaro
  • Studio Ghibli films
  • Mewkledreamy
  • Hello Kitty and Friends
  • Kitty's Paradise
  • Dinosaur Biyori
  • Picchipichi Shizuku-chan
  • Mofu☆Mofu
  • Lii Icecrin
  • Bananya
  • Chi's Sweet Home
  • Pururun! Shizuku-chan
  • Panda no Taputapu
  • Ganbare! Lulu Lolo
  • Happy Happy Clover
  • Ice Kuritarou
  • Lalala Lala-chan
  • Lalalacoco
  • Micchiri Wanko! Animation
  • Tamagotchi!
  • Pretty Cure
  • Pretty Rythm
  • PriPara
  • Gakuen Babysitters
  • Sanrio Boys
  • Nyanko Days
  • Is the Order a Rabbit?
  • Kamisama Minarai: Himitsu no Cocotama
  • Chibi Devi!
  • Pui Pui Molcar
  • Cookin' Idol Ai! Mai! Main!
  • Xiao Hua Xian
  • Sylvanian Families: Mini Story
  • Shokupan Mimi
  • Ice Kuritarou
  • Usaru-san
  • Kapibara-san
  • Little Charo
  • Suzy's Zoo Daisuki! Witzy
  • Mameshiba
  • Yukai na Animal Bus
  • Koshikko
  • Unikitty
  • BT21 Shorts
  • Usagi no Mofy
  • Yousei Chiitan
  • Nyanpire The Animation
  • Rilu Rilu Fairilu
  • Rirakkuma to Kaoru-san
  • Funassyi no Funafunafuna Biyori
  • Kirakira Happy★Hirake! Cocotama
  • Wagamama Fairy Mirmo de Pon!
  • PriPri Chii-chan!!
  • Kiratto Pri☆Chan
  • Bee and Puppycat
  • Aggretsuko
  • Doraemon
  • Beelzebub-jou no Okinimesu mama.
  • Urahara
  • Yume no Hoshi no Button Nose
  • Hello Kitty: Stump Village
  • Hello Kitty Super Cute Adventures (on Youtube)
  • Poyopoyo
  • Kupu~!! Mamegoma!
  • Tanuki to Kitsune
  • Kiniromozaic
  • Happy Kappy
  • Luminary Tears
  • Midori no Kuni no Otomodachi: Koeda-chan
  • Flower Witch Mary Bell
  • Sumikko Gurashi Movie: Tobidasu Ehon to Himitsu no Ko
  • Maple Town
  • Doubutsu no Mori
  • Shirotan: Shirotan ga Ippai!
  • Nanami-chan
  • Mochi Mochi Panda
  • Kyoufu! Zombie Neko
  • Pita Ten
  • Wagamama☆Fairy Mirumo de Pon!
  • Micchiri Neko
  • Unico
  • Ojamajo Doremi
  • Afro-Ken
  • Kingyo Chuuihou!
  • Fushigi Mahou Fun Fun Pharmacy
  • Cookin' Idol Ai! Mai! Main!
  • Happy Happy Clover
  • Flowering Heart
  • Wan Wan Celepoo Soreyuke! Tetsunoshin
  • Kasumin
  • Hiyoko Gumo
  • Pokonyan!
  • Hamster Club
  • Strawberry Shortcake
  • Popples
  • Gaspard and Lisa
  • Princess Pring


Music

Genres

  • J-Pop
  • Future Bass
  • Kawaii Metal
  • Idol Groups
  • Music Box
  • Vocaloid
  • some K-Pop

Artists

  • Morning Musume
  • Babymetal
  • Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
  • Momoiro Clover Z
  • Moon Kana
  • Wasuta
  • Kamiyado
  • Ladybaby
  • Dempagumi Inc
  • Vocaloid
  • Snail's house
  • Chevy
  • Tomggg
  • Dark Cat
  • Yunomi
  • Perfume
  • CY8ER
  • Kirara Magic
  • Couple N
  • Cho Tokimeki♡Sendenbu
  • ClariS
  • NiziU
  • Yui Ogura
  • I☆Ris
  • Nanahira
  • Yuayua
  • Orange Caramel
  • Apink (early works)
  • Gfriend (early works)
  • Crayon Pop
  • Meltia
  • Merry Merli
  • Kyururin te Shitemite

Subgenres

  • Yumekawaii - dreamy cute
  • Yamikawaii - dark and sickly cute
  • Gurokawaii - creepy cute
  • Erokawaii - erotic cute
  • Busukawaii - ugly cute
  • Dokukawaii - toxic/radioactive cute
  • Neokawaii - trendy cute
  • Kakkokawaii - cool and boyish cute
  • Fuwakawaii - fluffy cute

Resources

External links to help get a better understanding of this aesthetic.

Vendors

Playlists

Youtube Channels

Tiktok Accounts

Pinterest Boards

Gallery

References


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