Why is Japan obsessed with cuteness?

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What is kawaii? If you're familiar with Japanese culture then there's no doubt that you've heard of the term kawaii. It makes many people think of pastel colors, Hello Kitty, frilly dresses, anime and of course Japan! The word kawaii is derived from a phrase that refers to blushing but through time the meaning of the word has changed and is nowadays translated to 'cute'. But kawaii is actually so much more than just cute: it's a huge part of Japanese culture and can be found in anime, fashion, art, music, lifestyle and more!

According to other articles kawaii culture started coming up in the 70's, personally I wonder if it hadn't already started years before that during the Heian period (794-1185). If you look at Japanese art from this time you often see prints with inanimate objects or animals with human characteristics. Adding a 'face' to an object makes it feel more alive and people feel more affection towards it. The same thing goes for giving animals a human body or face which you can see nowadays a lot in anime, cat girls are super popular!

The other main influence was... can you guess it ? Hello Kitty. Born in 1974, the Sanrio's most famous character has promoted kawaii culture not only in Japan but worldwide for many decades and has become THE symbol for Japanese kawaii culture. appearing on bags, t-shirts and even household items: toasters, spoons, toilet seats?! Everything had to be Hello Kitty-fied!

The interesting thing about kawaii is that it can be so simple, most if not all cute characters are often designed with disproportional big eyes and head, a tiny nose and hardly no facial expression. Some examples of these characters are Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma. Hello Kitty doesn't even have a mouth but brings and yet she brings joy to people all around the world!

Japan is a country with many contradictions, one of these being the strict and formal work culture vs the pink and frilly kawaii culture. Kawaii is a way for people to escape the stress and extreme pressure from work and school and to express themselves in fashion, art and lifestyle. If you have to behave professional all day one way would be to grab a drink at a bar, some people like to indulge themselves in cuteness! Considering that Japanese people have to wear uniforms basically their whole life at work and at school. It makes sense that they want to wear something completely different outside work. At the same time kawaii is also present in the work life, did you know that all prefectures in Japan and even companies have their own mascots?

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