Kawaii: Going crazy for cute the Japanese way

Kawaii, or a love of the adorable, is huge in Japan – and it’s big here too. Bless, says Will Coldwell

Cats in leather jackets, polka-dot pinafores and pastel-coloured cartoons only begin to explain the aesthetic of Japan’s culture of kawaii.

Roughly translating as “cute”, kawaii describes the adorable physical features of things like babies, small animals, and indeed  anything that evokes feelings of love, nurture and protection.

But what was once simply an adjective is now an all-encompassing ideal, rearing its lovable wide-eyed head in all aspects of Japanese life. Increasingly, girls not only want to own things that are kawaii, they want to be kawaii too, adorning elaborate eye-catching clothing and intricately detailed accessories to transform themselves into the cutest kawaii characters they could possibly be. And you don’t have to travel to Tokyo to get a hint of this unique fashion; kigurumi animal onesies, cat cafés, and Hello Kitty are all examples of the steadily growing influence kawaii has in the West.

“In the UK and the States it appeals to the people who like the exoticism of it – it’s a new fresh culture,” says Manami Okazaki, author of Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute, a book published this month that takes a holistic look at the trend. “It’s cute, innocent and different to the mainstream pop cultures in the West,” Okazaki says. “It might be appealing to those who don’t feel an affinity to the more sexy and glamorous mainstream styles. A Japanese girl would prefer to be called kawaii than sexy or pretty.”

For Grace St John, a 21-year-old drama student and kawaii convert from Birmingham, this is one of the key appeals. “A lot of UK fashion is low-cut tops or short skirts, designed to look sexy, but kawaii fashion tends to focus more on a fantasy and cute style,” she says. “I like to wear puffy dresses, wigs and lots of bows in my hair to bring in all the cute colours! It’s fun and makes me feel really good about myself, the fashion has an ability to make you feel excited to go out and get dressed up – I don’t think I’d feel  particularly excited to put on a pair of jeans.”

She is already looking forward to this July’s Hyper Japan expo in Earls Court – a showcase of all aspects of Japanese pop culture. One of the main attractions is the kawaii fashion catwalk, which gives a chance for British fans to parade their take on Tokyo street style.

In the UK, kawaii fashion and accessories are often popular with the comic-book and gaming community. At the MCM Comic Con event, which took place at the weekend, there was an entire section dedicated to Japanese and Asian culture. Along with manga and anime, kawaii products are a popular purchase.

One stallholder at Comic Con was Thomas Andersson, owner of Artbox, the UK’s leading retailer of kawaii products, which has shops across London. He started distributing kawaii bags in 2004 and now stocks a range of more than 2,500 products from around 70 different brands. He sells everything from 50p stickers to a metre-high, £200 stuffed version of the popular character Rilakkuma the bear.

“We actually sell quite a few,” Andersson says. “I think that kawaii will continue to spread; we have customers such as Claudia Schiffer, Dave Grohl and even Jude Law sometimes comes into the shop, well, with his kids.”

But while interest in kawaii is growing around the world – it is particularly popular in France and Mexico – it is unlikely to infiltrate daily life in Britain the same way it has in Japan. As Okazaki explains: “In Japan it’s not a  subculture thing, it’s the norm.”

St John, however, lives in hope: “I think there are a lot of people who will never understand or accept the fashion, as you do get people shouting at you in the street, but I hope that with the growing community and exposure of kawaii people will be more accepting about   getting a little kawaii fashion in their lives!”

Kawaii, Published by Prestel, available online

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project