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[NEW SERIES] Finding Where “Cuteness” Currently Lies – The “Kawaii 2.0” Theory vol.1

「かわいい」の現在地を探ってーー「かわいい 2.0」論(1)
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[NEW SERIES] Finding Where “Cuteness” Currently Lies – The “Kawaii 2.0” Theory vol.1

 

Right now Japanese “kawaii” (“cuteness”) is changing. Rather, it has already changed. Or, what should I say, is that the face of what is “kawaii” is always changing. In any case, many of the discussions that have come up concerning “kawaii” now seem rusty, and already a thing of the past. So it would seem that it’s time to update this “kawaii” theory with what is currently favored now.

I understand this might sound like I’m exaggerating, and I’m not sure how much of this will be reliable. Or what I mean is, at the moment there is nothing currently outlining this new “kawaii” now. Therefore, it is necessary to carefully take the time to outline my own.

For example, according to previous theories of “kawaii”, it has been said that “kawaii” is a special word in Japanese, and a unique concept affirming childish and young things. In the book by Inuhiko Yomota, Kawaii Theory, which thoroughly explores and traces the origins of Japanese “kawaii”, it says, “Inside Japanese culture, the tradition of giving an affirmative meaning to small or childish things has survived, and should be kept in mind,” and comparing the values between Japan and the West when it comes to childish things, that “it differs in the West, where childishness is seen as a stage toward reaching maturity, and is looked down upon.”

I do not know if Western culture really looks down on childish things or not. I personally don’t think that’s the case. However, it’s true that the word “kawaii” was originally used to express positivity toward small and childish things, and that it served as the foundation for miniature “kawaii” monsters like Pokemon to become a part of Japanese culture.

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Pikachu

That said, currently “kawaii” is evolving. Just thinking of “kawaii” as a positive affirmation for small and immature things isn’t enough. It has surprisingly transformed into a multitude of concepts, which is why I wanted to title this piece as “Kawaii 2.0”, in order to differentiate what “kawaii” is currently with what it has been up until now. But what exactly is this “kawaii 2.0”?

In any case, “kawaii 2.0” is peculiar for the fact that it’s now so diversified that just describing it in one word as “kawaii” is almost completely meaningless. For example, “yume kawaii” (“dreamy cute”) is currently a hot topic in modern girls’ culture, and if you were to dare to call something grotesque to be cute, it would be “kimo kawaii” (“creepy cute”). Furthermore, things that appeal to male sexual desire or erotic things are categorized as “ero kawaii” (“erotic cute”). In this way, you could say that what we’re currently witnessing now is “kawaii” subdividing itself, like the continued self-procreation of amoeba cells. Because of this, “cute” no longer refers to small or childish things. In a sense, things that are considered erotic are already mature, and things that are called “yume kawaii” have hardly any trace of reality, referring to some kind of fantastical world.

Announcement for Yume Kawaii exhibition

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Kimo Kawaii CD jacket of Karry Pamyu Pamyu

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Ero Kawaii

Additionally, with “kawaii 2.0”, I believe “kawaii” consumed as global content and what is treated as “kawaii” in the Japanese girls’ culture scene branches off in two different directions. To put it simply, the “kawaii” that is consumed as global content is “kawaii” that has evolved domestically, gotten caught in the vortex of globalism, and been translated, and has become distributed as a form of soft power from Japan.

So, when people think of “kawaii” as a unique part of Japanese culture, it’s connected to the image of the “kawaii” being consumed abroad, and vice versa. For example, why Pokemon was created or why Hello Kitty is so popular with high school girls (JK), when discussed, will be naturally be taken for Japanese exoticism, and is the reason “kawaii” has seen such rampant consumption overseas.

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Hello Kitty

But the whispers of “kawaii” from Japanese girls has largely evolved from that, and to some extent is currently differentiated by translating the word as “kawaii” overseas and “かわいい” (“kawaii”, but written out in Japanese instead) within Japan. Perhaps it could be said that at one time they were identical twins, but at some point only “かわいい” transformed into something more multi-faceted.

So in this series, we’ll examine the original concept of “kawaii”, outlining it from its beginnings until its current state. Or to summarize, once again, we’ll trace the step-by-step evolution of “kawaii” from its origin as much as possible, in order to grasp its true character. Then we’d like to try and approach what exactly the current diversification of “かわいい”, or “kawaii 2.0” is. Additionally, women are now expressing their dislike or being called “kawaii”, and in certain situations, consider using the word “cute” recklessly as a form of gender-related violence. We’re planning to make the topic a ten-article series. After concluding the tenth installment, I’d like to share my embarrassing experience of talking about “kawaii” whilst unaware of it with all of you readers.

Cover Photo by Kenta Kuzuhara
Translated by Jamie Koide

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Author
KAI NAGASE
KAI NAGASE

Writer, Book Reviewer. Having the degree of MA. (Japanese Literature) I love Japanese Girl's Popular Music, such as YUKI, Chara, Makoto Kawamoto, and Seiko Oomori.

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