Aha, a gap in my knowledge of popular culture. (There are a lot of those.) I didn’t know kawaii was a thing. I knew about the Japanese cult of cuteness, but I didn’t know it had a name, or that it was a fashion outside Japan.
(I know a woman, a PhD-MD, whose parents left Japan for the US when she was a child because they couldn’t stand to let her grow up under that kind of pressure – and that was decades ago.)
Wikipedia clued me in.
Kawaii (かわいい [kaw͍aiꜜi], “lovable”, “cute”, or “adorable”) is the quality of cuteness in the context of Japanese culture. It has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior, and mannerisms. The noun is kawaisa (可愛さ?), literally, “lovability”, “cuteness” or “adorableness”.
My skin is crawling already. I can’t bear cuteness in adults – that is to say, in adult women, because not too many men go in for it.
Japanese women who feign kawaii behaviors (e.g., high-pitched voice, squealing giggles) that could be viewed as forced or inauthentic are called burikko and this is considered a gender performance. The term burikko (鰤子?) is formed with buri (鰤, literally ‘amberjack’ a fish), a pun on furi (振, ‘to pretend or pose’), and ko (子, ‘child’). It was a neologism developed in the 1980s by singer Kuniko Yamada (山田邦子, Yamada Kuniko?).
Ew. Yes of course it’s a gender performance, but it’s a peculiarly gross one. Those squealing giggles…
Japanese women often try to act cute to attract men. A study by Kanebo, a cosmetic company, found that Japanese women in their 20s and 30s favored the “cute look” with a “childish round face”. Women also employ a look of innocence in order to further play out this idea of cuteness.
Yup. They duck their heads and then peer up adorably; they let their mouths open a little so that a couple of darling little pearly teeth show…
And to quote an immortal concluding line of Dorothy Parker’s, Tonstant Weader fwoed up.