The Word “Kawaii” Becomes Just for Girls, to Re-affirm Their Girliness : The First Revolution during the 70s –The “Kawaii 2.0 Theory”

女の子を肯定する、女の子の為の言葉へと:「かわいい」と「an・an」の70年代——「かわいい2.0」論 (5)
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The Word “Kawaii” Becomes Just for Girls, to Re-affirm Their Girliness : The First Revolution during the 70s –The “Kawaii 2.0 Theory”

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Kawaii culture” exploded from the consumerist society of the 1970s. From there an increasing number of people began to consume the word “cute” in of itself, which specifically led to the commercialized “fancy goods” market epidemic. In short, the adjective “kawaii” in Japanese started having a symbolic value. Eventually from this, the character representative of all things cute, Hello Kitty, was created by Sanrio, and the company went on to produce one miracle after another. Cuteness became a character, and then a commodity. This all happened as part of the first order of the “Kawaii Revolution” of consumerist society, which is where we left off during our last installment.


Read the past articles
vol.1 : Finding Where “Cuteness” Currently Lies
vol.2 : What is the Exact Origin of “Kawaii”?
vol.3 : Kawaii Culture Didn’t Exist at the Beginning of the Modern Age?!
vol.4 : Consumerist Society and the Birth of “Kawaii” Culture

The media at the time, especially magazines targeting young women, sharply captured this transformation of the word “kawaii”. While this was happening, the Japanese language updated the meaning of word “kawaii” from its natural use to the way it was being used in women-oriented media. In this volume, we’d like to take a closer look at how the word “kawaii” was re-born among consumerist society, and the women’s magazine content that tied in with it.

The word “kawaii”, before it became a widely used term like it is now, was a word used by men toward women. One of phrase you would hear, for example, was “Kawaiko-chan” (a phrase used to describe cute women). Although it’s an outdated phrase now, during the 60s it was commonly used to compliment a woman. So, because women wanted men to call them “Kawaiko-chan”, they would dress in order to impress men. In other words, the word “kawaii” was none other than a word that existed to govern women.

However, around the mid-70s, the meaning of the word began to change. To quote Eiji Otsuka, who we’ve referred to a number of times during this series: “The new usage of the word “kawaii”, from the moment it was voiced by the mouths of women, encompassed all of the ways it had been used before then. So the word “kawaii”, which had been used to oppress women, was in turn transformed by women into one that would dominate female circles. To summarize, although it had mainly been used by men within the power dichotomy between men and women, it began to be used as a term by women to describe their own personal outlook and its creation. This was most easily felt in women’s media, which played a role in facilitating this transformation.

Starting in the 70s, one after another young women’s magazines were being launched. an・an, which began in March of 1970, JJ which began in May of 1975 as a special women’s book, and then Olive and ViVi in the 1980s were just some of the magazines that shook up bookstore shelves. Besides Olive, these are still popular women’s magazines today. The “Kawaii Revolution” theme from before served as the background and reason behind the rise of women’s media like this.







That is to say, unlike now there weren’t so many designs emphasizing the word “kawaii” in magazines back then. Even compared to the current obsession of using the word “kawaii” on magazine covers, its usage was much more infrequent, and even when it appeared, it would only grace the corners. However as an idea, it filled the pages of magazine content.


The word “kawaii” is abused on females magazine covers recently

For instance, there was a fashion brand that took the world by storm in the 70s called Pink House. This brand of clothes was often worn by Yuri Tachikawa (wife of Isao Kaneko), who appeared on the cover of an・an multiple times and it became well-known from there. The fashion of clothing designer Isao Kaneko and model Yuri Tachikawa, full of girl’s dreams and longings, graced the covers of early issues of an・an. An illustrator acquainted with Kaneko, named Setsu Nagasawa (another very influential person), recalled that Kaneko would look at the photographic negatives of the an・an cover while repeating “kawaii” over and over again.

Pink House still keeps having kawaii style since the beginning

Pink House still keeps having kawaii style since the beginning (the picture is screen cap of 2015 A/W collection from the website)

“That string of “kawaii” he spoke is how I remember him.” From the time an・an launched he would repeat the phrase over and over (abbreviated), and I realized that his Japanese and mine were very different… I first learned that from him. (taken from Setsu Nagasawa’s Fushigi na Dansei (A Strange Guy), a book about Isao Kaneko from Pink House)


Kaneko Isao’s book about blouses

Kaneko’s repetition upon looking at the cover of an・an was something new, and became an important factor when creating an・an. Eiji Otsuka also touched on his memories of Nagasawa, stated: “(Isao Kaneko) had no qualms about sharing the re-configured meaning of the word “kawaii”, which re-affirmed the world of women by women.” It was precisely because this that his brand Pink House of the 70s and 80s was consistent and a leader of the ideology of “kawaii culture”.”

Last year, Pink House collaborated with Momoiro Clover Z

Last year, Pink House collaborated with Momoiro Clover Z

During the first revolution of “kawaii” during the 70s, it became a word by women for women. Then this new “kawaii” was incorporated aggressively as soon as an・an launched. For example, if you look at the contents of the October 1972 issue of an・an, you’ll notice a feature called “It’s cute to wear the (Hanshin) Tigers baseball uniform”. This uniform was a men’s fashion item. If you think about it from the male perspective, it was likely that they weren’t open to women wearing the same thing, and would have better preferred women to look neater. However, when women chose to wear what they thought was fashionable, they weren’t doing it to receive flattery from men, but as self-expression to say, “What’s so bad about a woman wearing men’s clothing?!” in addition to re-affirming their own view of the world.

NMB48's Sayaka Yamamoto is known as Hanshin Tigers fan, and wearing the costume without hesitating

NMB48’s Sayaka Yamamoto is known as Hanshin Tigers fan, and wearing the costume without hesitating

The meaning of the word “kawaii” was transformed. It also transformed women’s media, and, also caused women themselves to evolve. an・an, which still continues today, was none other than a pioneer. Of course, an・an wasn’t the only one. For instance, Olive was a distinguished women’s magazine of the 80s, as well as an important media source. However, I think this is a good ending point for now. We can make that a talking point for next time.

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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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