From a Word to a Commercial Power : A Brief Introduction to the Kawaii Aesthetic in Contemporary Japan

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The term kawaii, commonly translated into English as “cute” and “sweet”, has long been a part of Japanese culture. However, the modern concept of kawaii originates from a subculture associated with young schoolgirls in the 1970s. This conception of kawaii has since passed into the mainstream and can be seen in almost every aspect of Japanese culture: stylistic, visual, artistic, and even governmental. Because kawaii images evoke feelings of caring and nurturance, many private corporations have invested in the creation of cute merchandise that is based on the aesthetic qualities of kawaii/cuteness, such as infantile features, bright colors, and soft textures. This practice has not been limited to private corporations either. Governmental organizations are also making use of kawaii culture to increase the favorability and recognition of the services they provide. The present paper combines a review of the contemporary academic literature on the topic with original survey data in order to introduce the meaning and significance of the word kawaii among Japanese women, its psychological characteristics, and its commercial and governmental applications.


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