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.
Nathaniel Frein says
This brings back memories…
And a desire to slap the boy who fantasized about those women.
“Kawaii” culture is pretty fun when it comes to toys and food but the way it’s applied to people is toxic. If you want to be really grossed out, there’s a slang term for women over 25 years old in Japan: “christmas cake”, because “no one wants them after the 25th”.
Scr... Archivist says
It is fitting that “kawaii” is close to “kowai”.
Yeah, I went to a Japanese high school for a little student exchange trip, and me and one other guy got swarmed by the girls there. I’d thought their portrayal in anime was a stereotypical exaggeration, but it really seemed like they all acted like… well… babies, honestly. It was no wonder the only Japanese woman I was attracted to was my host mother’s daughter, who was four years my senior and very well traveled, displaying pretty much none of the “kawaii” or “moe” traits.
SC (Salty Current), OM says
That cute style will now always remind me of Sonmi-451 in Cloud Atlas. Adds a terrifying element. (I don’t know if their clothes and surroundings are described that way in the book. If they are, the costumes and set design are very good. If they aren’t, the costumes and set design are brilliant.)
hoary puccoon says
A friend of mine who lived in Japan for a couple of years laughed about how her Japanese women friends would turn it on and off. Around a man, it was all “Oh, my gosh, aren’t you wonderful to talk to little me.” Then, in a group of women, it’d be, “Meh. He was pretty boring.”
Chiaki Kuriyama as GoGo Yubari in Kill Bill and Takako Chigusa in Battle Royal is a good mix of Kawaii and Killer. It seems to me that women in Japan are also using it as an empowering thing and working with the toxic elements in their culture to create something empowering … My brain is failing me but there was a brilliant Japanese film with a woman in cutesy Kawaii gear and living the lifestyle. Indie one, very good story… I may remember later, but it struck me as something I’d never want to watch in a millions years with the protagonists dressed in hyped up Disney outfits. But it was very good. Broke my expectations completely.
Oolon: Kamikaze Girls, maybe? Though that’s more about fashion than behaviour.
Ahh! Remembered … Kamikazi Girls… http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0416220/
Looked awful but a Japanese friend recommended, I try not to be the stereotyped bloke but I usually settle for something like an ultra-violent Takashi Miike film if I’m watching Japanese cinema. This was a very good story, recommended for an insight into Japanese pop culture. Also some great, very Japanese, surreal plot lines. I think the character Momoko Ryugasaki would fit the description of Kawaii, and her friend was the antithesis of Kawaii, as a biker.
Hmm looking at the demographics of who watched the film on IMDB I’m wondering what attracted all those other blokes who watch ultra violent Japanese films to watch this as well O_O Ahem, definitely not me! … Oh well they got a good story that lacked the fan service they were maybe hoping for. (“fan service” is probably worse than kawaii ever could be, in Japanese media at least)
Ha should have refreshed! yeah @Moggie, that film broke my expectations completely… Probably why I like it more than I otherwise would have.
What made Kamikaze Girls for me was mainly the performance of Anna Tsuchiya as the would-be delinquent, rather than Kyouko Fukada as the dreamer with the frilly fashion sense. But I didn’t see any burikko there, thankfully: Momoko has no interest in acting the little girl, and in fact is as hard as nails behind the frills. This comes over more clearly in the book (written by a fashion designer, hence the emphasis on clothes). Recommended to anyone who likes tales of “odd couple” friendships, but anyone with a creepy interest in Japanese youth would probably be disappointed.
Guess Who? says
How different is this really from the Southern girls who follow The Rules? Ditzy, childish squeals and giggles around men.
It’s not limited to Japan. I lived in South Korea for a few years and have lived in Taiwan for more than seven. Such “cuteness” is common here too, though not as prevalent. It’s most noticeable on TV, where women usually have high pitched voices. Speaking only anecdotally, some men I’ve met prefer high pitched voices, and most don’t, though I wouldn’t hazard a guess at the percentages.
From South Korea:
From the PRC:
The SK video is not a good example, but the best I could find. Bilingual people in said countries tend to speak differently depending on the language. Their English speaking voices are usually lower, likely influenced by native English speaking teachers. That’s certainly true of my students.
Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says
On the other hand, there are plenty of people who are subverting and reclaiming stereotypically feminine cuteness is pretty awesome ways: http://fuckyeahsubversivekawaii.tumblr.com
Oh, I love that character. She subverts the whole cute non-threatening Japanese schoolgirl trope so hard. (Trigger Warning for violence.)
Jonny Vincent says
“Won’t anyone think of the children!!?”
Living in Bangkok, the kawaii influence from Japan and South Korea’s K-Pop saturate the market. I was annoyed by all the “cutesy” initially but couldn’t put my finger on why until one day, a friend of mine was livid at his kawaii girlfriend (she’d been caught with multiple exclusive boyfriends and he’d learned of her betrayal via STD). He was trying to remonstrate with her or get answers or make sense of it but she was cowering like a puppy dog or a helpless, innocent victim looking up at him with a trembling lip as if she was terrified and about to burst into tears at any moment. He started losing his train of thought, degenerating into incoherence and then he just crumbled in a sobbing heap on the ground, broken.
I was already disgusted by her little charade when I saw her diabolical smirk at the moment of triumph before she rolled her eyes in disgust and contempt for the pathetic boyfriend whose life she had just destroyed. And then it hit me. They’re creepy because they’re hijackers.
They’re stealing children’s biological defence mechanism of cute to exploit the impulsive protective instincts in men. That’s pretty shameful by itself but to then associate cute with sexy in the confused minds of damaged, emotional men?
So many children are going to be molested. I wonder if pedophiles even know why their arousal is a conditioned emotive response (CER) to the triggered stimuli of cute represented by the child victims of kawaii hijackers. It’s scandalous. They have a choice, they have options. Children are stuck with cute.
Darwinian aesthetics”—the science of cute
What could go wrong.
Jonny Vincent @17,
Every single comment of yours I’ve read can be summarised as “bitches be lyin’.”
I wonder if you even know you’re doing it, or why.
Jonny Vincent says
I only speak truth. What you see is up to you but your perception would be more valuable if it was more humane.
Can you find fault with the logic above? Isn’t this a more important issue to focus on than patterns?
Check out this girl. That’s what a human girl is supposed to be like. Powerful, Self-reliant, Independent. Not a sex-obsessed, malicous waif associating sex and cute in the minds of guys she’s ruining with her apathetic nonchalance to suffering she has dedicated her life to pursue.
nb. Humans lie when they need to. We all do what need to survive. Some of us are more confused than others about the reasons why humans fight to survive in a world without threats…just lots of needless, needy, killer lies.
You’re a very strange man.
I hear pseudointellectual MRM psychobabble.
It’s annoying when burikko infantilize themselves to ingratiate themselves to men, but it’s not that far off from some of the “feminine” personae women in the West have adopted. Femininity has historically meant diminution of one sort or another: women making themselves seem non-threatening and “sweet.” Loki knows when you don’t actually have a lot of social power, appearing non-threatening in order to appease those with more status is a viable strategy. The sorts of societal pressures that generate gender performance are complex. The people acting this stuff out are often mostly unconscious of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
(And some women just like the aesthetic, and they adopt it for themselves, deliberately. I’m sure that’s true of plenty of young women into the kawaii look.)
Here’s the important point: men, “confused” or “damaged” or not, are responsible for their own actions. Men are not helpless pawns of their biology or their emotional problems or sexual manipulation by women.
Jonny Vincent says
Nonsense. That’s one of the dumbest lies I’ve read this year. They know exactly what they’re doing. They consciously choose to obsess over doing it. They know why. You know why. I know why.
That is the important point. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Humans are not helpless pawns of their biology or their emotional problems or sexual manipulation by compromised mothers with a big fat lie to tell to little girls about how they’re supposed to feel.
You’re clearly the sort of person who imagines he “knows” all manner of things. Buh-bye.