Marketing Cuteness in Japan: the Culture of Kawaii

What are the parameters of Japanese cuteness and how to keep up with them

a cute baby lying in sunglasses on an inflatable ring

Even if you are not proficient in Japanese, you might have heard of kawaii. It means “cute” or “adorable”. This word has been known outside Japan for a very long time. Mainly because kawaii is more than just an adjective. It denotes the whole culture, a way of life and behavior, a fashion trend, and so much more.

The companies who wish to enter the Japanese market sometimes choose to utilize the appeal of kawaii for marketing purposes. Nevertheless, they are very likely to bump into a simple but still crucial question: what exactly is kawaii? How the understanding of cuteness in Japanese culture is different from other cultures? What makes things or living creatures kawaii?

After spending some time looking at or interacting with kawaii culture people usually develop an inner compass and intuition for what passes as cute in Japan. However, many will find it difficult to explain what defines Japanese kawaii. That is why in this article we would like to talk about what makes things and people cute from the Japanese perspective and lay out the main principles of it.

The Principles of Kawaii

Sphere as an Ultimate Kawaii Shape

If you compare several random characters of your choice, you will most definitely notice that they have one thing in common. Their body architecture and appearance are based on or constructed of spheres or circles, their variations and modifications. You might also see how sharp edges or peaks are often rounded. Rounded shapes are pleasant to the eye and most importantly do not bear the atmosphere of danger around them. Whether an observer realizes or not, it is probably the safe curves that the eye and the mind find so satisfying.

The ultimate model to look up to when developing a kawaii logo, character or product is an infant.

Smooth lines and spheroids are the core of kawaii-ness. How many different characters or logos can be made out of one shape? Apparently, there is an indefinite quantity of them. Japan keeps on delivering more and more kawaii-looking mascots on a regular basis.

The Texture of Kawaii

Following the same principles of smoothness and non-threatening appeal, it is easy to predict what would be an ideal texture for a kawaii-themed item. Furry, puffy, silky surfaces are always a win as opposed to abrasive or stubby ones. The texture should invite the observer to touch it. Also, you will probably see a lot of plush and other fluffy materials being used to produce cute toys, bags, cell phone protective cases, etc.

When it comes to the animated or human-like characters, kawaii also implies softness not only on the surface but also on the inside. Quite often softness translates to the key characteristic of a character or a mascot presented as kindness and empathy. And this property brings us to the next attribute of being kawaii – being huggable.

Being Huggable

The combination of roundness and softness usually prompts the urge to hug or squish that cutie. One could expect the size to be the next criteria for cuteness, but the popularity of Totoro, Baymax, Moomins, and other gentle giants proves that the size does not matter. Ultimately,it is the sensorial appeal combined with a set of certain personality traits that distinguishes a truly kawaii thing from just a random fluffy decorative pillow.

Kawaii Personality

As you might expect, being kawaii is not only about the looks, it is also about the behavior. Cuteness in Japanese way suggests shyness, a bit of awkwardness, child-like motions and facial expressions. The amount of mannerism and pouting one encounters in Japan through popular media and simply by observing the crowd beats all expectations.

What is the Most Kawaii Thing in the World?

It is round or chubby, vulnerable and rather weak, soft and huggable, clumsy and pouts a lot. What or who fits all the parameters? It is a human baby. The theory of cuteness being tightly associated with the infants was first proposed and described already back in 1940 by ethnologist Konrad Lorenz. The idea is that babies do not pose danger, they need a lot of support, people usually feel protective of them and want to hold them.

Thus, the ultimate model to look up to when developing a kawaii logo, character or product is an infant, both physically and behavior-wise. Babies also have rather big heads in proportion to their bodies when compared to adults. This peculiarity is massively exploited by anime and toy industry as a mean to make characters or their figurines look cute.

Do you find kawaii culture appealing to you? Let us know your opinion in comment section below.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

In Japan, being cute is mathematically precise.

What do you think?

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