Following Seiko Matsuda, Idols Come Programmed with Cuteness : The “Kawaii 2.0” Theory vol.8

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Following Seiko Matsuda, Idols Come Programmed with Cuteness : The “Kawaii 2.0” Theory vol.8

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In this series, we’ve referred to the “kawaii” (“cute”) revolution born from Japanese consumerist society in the 70s as the first wave of the “kawaii” revolution. Finally this revolution, with the aid of girls appearing on screen, tightens its hold on Japanese society. And so, the power of “cuteness” plants itself among idols. In order to explore the relationship between idols and “kawaii” culture, both in the previous volume and this one, I’d like to take the time to consider the differences between 70s and 80s idols. I have a hunch that the “kawaii” revolution first began to idols in the 80s, giving rise to the question of how they differed from each other during this time.

Read the previous volume/

Just Who Exactly Was Momoe Yamaguchi, the Popular Idol Who “Sang” Realistic Stories About Everyday People? —— The “Kawaii Theory 2.0” #7

Read older posts
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
vol.5 : The Word “Kawaii” Becomes Just for Girls, to Re-affirm Their Girliness
Vol.6 : The Magazine “Olive” Made Japanese Girls Aware of The Rare Value of Girlhood and Maidenhood

To answer this, last time we took a look at Momoe Yamaguchi, who represented idols of the 70s. In this installment, I’d like to focus on Seiko Matsuda, who arrived on the scene at the heels of Yamaguchi’s retirement, and stood at the top of the idol-on-idol entertainment industry

Seiko Matsuda, or idols who came after her, would play the role symmetrically opposite to Momoe Yamaguchi’s. After debuting in 1980 with “Kaze wa Akiiro”, Seiko Matsuda would go on to represent idols from the 80s in both literally and figuratively, with 24 number-one singles on the Oricon chart over the following eight years. Without any gap, Seiko Matsuda soon filled the shoes Momoe Yamaguchi had left behind in the eyes of Japanese society.


One reason for Matsuda’s popularity was her “burikko” (overly cute and innocent) character. Her too-cute, “burikko” character was one that really appealed to young women. This is because, unlike Yamaguchi’s real, yet raw story, anyone (to a various extent) could copy Matsuda’s “burikko”. Later, girls would be also be unable to sustain from copying her hairstyle, called the “Seiko-chan cut”.

Even Miyuki Watanabe (NMB48) copied Seiko-chan hairstyle for her solo single released in 2014.

Even Miyuki Watanabe (NMB48) copied Seiko-chan hairstyle for her solo single released in 2014.

Above all else, Seiko Matsuda was cute, and this cuteness was something people wanted to imitate. In this way Matsuda, apart from her powerful voice, was able to use the symbol of “cuteness” as her weapon and climb to the top of the idol world.

Seiko Matsuda demonstrated the rare talent of being able to turn her “girliness into a simulation. (Excerpt) By turning being a girl into a kind of program, Matsuda was able to acquire an even purer girliness. Before long, those who criticized her as a “burikko” would become her supporter “ (System to Gishiki / Systems and Rituals)

Eiji Otsuka doesn’t use the word “kawaii”, but we can take this girliness to mean cuteness, and interpret it as retaining it semi-permanently even as an adult.

Yamaguchi sought to protect her own real image. Matsuda would turn everything into a simulation of a virtual image. In short, she presented herself as someone easy to copy, and she wasn’t alone. All the idols that came after here exemplified an simply understood “cuteness” that could be mass-produced.

Take for example, Noriko Sakai, who debuted in 1986. She was able to appeal to people by using her own, cute, “Noripi language” with words like “yappii”, “itadakimammoth”, and “urepii” (cute plays on the words “yay”, “let’s eat”, and “glad”). Because young women imitated these words, they quickly gained popularity and became buzzwords. I even remember my mother using these words with me when I was little, and feeling embarrassed by them as a child.


Kyoko Koizumi is another example. Her major hit song in 1985, “Nantetatte Idol”, just as Eiji Otsuka describes it, is “very much a piece where she sings about the delight of living as part of an idol simulation”, and even watching it now and being aware that she plays a fictional idol, she takes great pleasure from it.


In other words, in the 80s, cute idols themselves became a symbol, and so, the difficulties associated with performing as an idol disappeared. No more were the idols of the 70s, who had to gain support by spreading the realness and goodness of their human character. In this manner, the first wave of the “kawaii” revolution changed what an idol ought to be, creating the subsequent prototype still used today.

Of course, this isn’t to say that idols in the 70s weren’t cute. If you watch footage of Momoe Yamaguchi, you’ll see she’s cute. However idols didn’t use “cuteness” as a symbol, nor did their fans look for “cuteness” in their appeal. Analyzing critic Masaaki Hiraoka’s “Momoe Yamaguchi is Buddha” there is proof that the word “kawaii” barely registers.

Idols decidedly turned the symbol of “cutness” into a commodity or cultural property. It is at this point that the first wave of the “kawaii” revolution, born from consumerist society in the 70s, would meet its demise. Beginning with the character-themed items created by Sanrio and the like, this revolution led to the establishment of a number of girls’ magazines, and the creation of idol culture. Here things surrounding “kawaii” settle down for a bit, but then heading into the 90s, begin to spiral again amongst the wave of globalism.

Translated by Jamie Koide

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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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