The Meaning Of Kawaii

Employees at Howdy Kitty’s Kawaii Paradise in Tokyo pose for a picture.

a group of kids posing for a photo: Hello Kitty's Kawaii Paradise is located in Tokyo, Japan.

© Image: STR/AFP (Getty Pictures)
Good day Kitty’s Kawaii Paradise is located in Tokyo, Japan.

Kawaii. You hear it in anime, you listen to it on Tv set shows, and you hear it on the streets of Japan, exactly where the word is spoken by young and outdated alike. With people today all-around the world rising up on Japanese popular tradition, the term has also entered the worldwide zeitgeist. But what does “kawaii” truly imply?

In Japanese, the phrase basically usually means “acceptable for affection” or “possible to love” and has been translated as meaning “cute,” “adorable,” “sweet,” “precious,” “pretty,” “endearing,” “darling,” and even “little.” Its use may differ in Japanese and can refer to infants, puppies, young persons, clothes, and even senior citizens. In Japanese, 1 may possibly refer to one’s possess grandma as kawaii, even if she’s not decked out in pink bows and a frilly dress.

In comparison with the word utsukushii—meaning “beautiful” or “lovely”—the phrase kawaii is more playful. Things can be kimokawaii (creepy sweet), busukawaii (unappealing cute), or erokawaii (attractive lovable). Kawaii is functional and fun, whilst utsukushii has the stress of natural beauty. It’s also entered the English language. The nuance may be a bit various, but the Collins English Dictionary defines it as the pursuing:


1. denoting a Japanese creative and cultural model that emphasizes the top quality of cuteness, utilizing bright colours and figures with a childlike overall look


2. (in Japanese artwork and culture) the quality of staying lovable or cute

“If you translate kawaii into English, it’s ‘cute,’ but kawaii is a lot far more psychological than sweet,” Tokyo vogue mogul Sebastian Masuda, hailed as the Godfather of Kawaii, informed me about a decade back. The clothing designer has been a central participant in the modern day kawaii trend motion with his Harajuku clothing shop 6% Doki Doki, which introduced in 1995. But modern kawaii society begun extensive prior to.

In the course of the 1970s, Japan underwent a kawaii growth that looks, at times, to have under no circumstances stopped. While the phrase was unquestionably made use of prior, it was then that kawaii turned commodified at a scale like hardly ever just before. Pupils carried bags emblazoned with Snoopy, a character nevertheless referred to as “kawaii” in Japanese, although Sanrio introduced a small coin purse included with the now legendary epitome of kawaii, Hi there Kitty. Even though the feline character’s layout could possibly have experienced a whiff of Dick Bruna’s Miffy, the coin purse was a strike. Lovable stationary was also well-known, and younger gals wrote in spherical figures because they were softer and more light than the standard kinds. Simply set, they have been just cuter.

Kawaii lifestyle wasn’t only crystallizing at that time, but also getting significant organization. The 1980s had been a lot more than delighted to comply with fit, ushering in a myriad of cutesy idols, both male and female. Younger ladies even started talking in childlike tones, and anime recycled that type of talking to mass audiences. In the course of the 1990s and 2000s, kawaii continued its climb, with style getting to be louder and extra colorful. Nevertheless, in Japan, the word’s primary utilization remained. It referred not only to saccharine pop idols, but also to all types of issues, from birds to cakes, and even to the Japanese royal spouse and children.

a person holding a donut in front of a store: Hello Kitty donuts look yummy and kawaii.

© Photograph: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP (Getty Visuals)
Hello there Kitty donuts glimpse yummy and kawaii.

Donuts do not need to have cat ears and chocolate ribbons to be kawaii, but all that certainly does assist.

About the earlier several decades, present-day Japanese tradition has distribute globally by online video video games, anime, pop audio and fashion. Japanese sensibilities, minus context, filter via, bringing new thoughts and terms. The non-Japanese-talking world’s experience with kawaii is via colourful, hyper-adorable trend or artwork, and not through toddlers, puppies, and adorable grannies. The pink-pastel, protected-in-bows kawaii becomes the to start with definition and the default which means. All the other meanings and uses slide by the wayside, and the word normally normally takes on concentrated nuances. This is not necessarily a terrible point, as the phrase may have a far more exact which means in its borrowed point out. Understanding the initial use, nonetheless, can give perspective on the culture from which the word was imported.

Japanese, like English, has extended embraced overseas words and phrases. In Japanese, overseas terms have been added to the lexicon for perfectly in excess of a thousand years. In the 5th century, penned language from China was initial launched to Japan by way of Korea. For hundreds of several years, Portuguese, Dutch, English and German phrases, among the others, have all labored their way into the Japanese language for a selection of explanations. Sometimes they categorical ideas that didn’t previously exist in Japanese, and other periods these personal loan words and phrases are just much easier to say. The Japanese term shinryou kiroku (医療記録), for instance, means “medical document,” but the much shorter, broadly used karute from the German phrase “karte” is fewer of a mouthful.

a little girl smiling at the camera: The Tokyo Crazy Kawaii Paris Fair spread Japanese culture to France.

© Photograph: FRED DUFOUR/AFP (Getty Illustrations or photos)
The Tokyo Mad Kawaii Paris Reasonable distribute Japanese lifestyle to France.

Kimura U from Japan participated in the Tokyo Mad Kawaii Paris Fair.

Other instances, phrases may be imported to make the language additional expressive. The Japanese phrase kakkoii is currently usually likened to the English phrase “cool,” but the language has also imported the English time period. Possessing the alternative to use possibly kakkoii or kuuru (great) can permit the speaker give different connotations. The way foreign terms are integrated into Japanese is endlessly fascinating—just listen to Japanese audio. I listened to a neighborhood child the other working day listed here in Osaka consistently use the word “dope” (ドープ or doopu), as in “cool,” in Japanese even though talking with his mates.

Similarly, English also has no scarcity of mortgage text from masses of languages, which include all those from Japanese, these as bokeh, onigiri, emoji, kaizen, futon, tycoon and sure, kawaii. Languages are not static, and personal loan words and phrases continually aid them evolve and stay vibrant.

Considering about the meaning of kawaii, I’m reminded of how Masuda has prolonged pushed for kawaii style to be an inclusive indicates of expression and a way to provide the entire world with each other. “If I can help folks acknowledge the kawaii spirit in some others, accept this inquisitiveness, then I imagine I can make greater relationships and a superior entire world,” he earlier informed The Straits Instances. Now, most likely that’s the accurate this means of kawaii.

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