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CULTURE

“Kawaii” ron

[The Theory of Kawaii]

By Yomota Inuhiko

Chikuma Shobō (Chikuma Shinsho), 2006. 208 pp. ¥740. ISBN 978-4- 480-06281-9.

Also published in: Chinese (traditional and simplified characters) and Korean

The Japanese adjective kawaii (cute) is applied to a number of globally popular Japanese characters, like Hello Kitty, Pokémon, and Sailor Moon. What does kawaii mean, and why have kawaii Japanese characters become so popular? Taking a look at these questions by going back in history and examining the meaning of the word, the author skillfully delves into one root of Japanese culture.

    According to Yomota, the word kawaii dates back to the eleventh-century work Makura no sōshi [trans. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon]. It was used in Kabuki and popular novels in the Edo period (1603–1868) and has been kept alive by modern writers like Dazai Osamu, refined to the point where it represents a unique aesthetic. The author also notes that the elements of kawaii include ugliness and a hint of the grotesque in addition to beauty. He analyzes how university students use the word via surveys of students at Meiji Gakuin University, where he has taught film history, and Akita University, where he previously lectured. He also looks into the background of how kawaii culture made its way overseas. In short, this is a very interesting discourse on Japanese culture. (UY)
“Kawaii” ronの表紙画像
Yomota Inuhikoの著者画像

By Yomota Inuhiko

Yomota Inuhiko

Born in 1953. Studied religion as an undergraduate at the University of Tokyo and comparative culture at its graduate school. Is active as a critic mainly covering film and literature, looking also at comics, cooking, urban theory, and modern thought. Won the Minister of Education’s Art Encouragement Prize for Luis Buñuel in 2014. Other works include Tochi no seirei [The Spirits of the Earth], Morokko rutaku [Moroccan Exile], and Shirato Sanpei ron [On Shirato Sanpei].

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