BOOK: kawaii! japan's culture of cute

kawaii! japan's culture of cute by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson

Spotted this in the Art and Graphics section at the library, couldn't resist checking it out!

This was such a fun and informative read! I'll just pick out some interesting highlights to share with you. The book introduces different elements of 'kawaii', its history (dating back to the Edo period), and the various branches and how 'kawaii' is expressed in culture today.


  • Hello Kitty lives in London, not Japan. At the time of creation, Brit culture was considered cool in Japan. Her name is Kitty White, and she weighs about 3 apples. Lol.

  • Hello Kitty has a mouth, it's just not drawn on. LOL.
  • From the book: "Her appeal is truly international in scope, and she even once instigated a riot of a Singapore Macdonald's when fans clamoured for a promotional toy." Haha we Singaporeans make news for the funniest reasons.

    You know you have them.... (Pic from Carousell, whitebear94)

  • Rilakkuma comes from a Japanese play of words, "rilakushingu", which means relaxing in Japanese.
    How can you resist such a cute, lazy and funny character? I find him cuter than Gudetama!!

Some shots from the book:

An example of Macoto Takahashi's starry eyed illustrated characters. How beautiful!

Kewpie, designed to help introduce Mayonnaise in 1925, when the condiment was not familiar to Japanese consumers. Text on the picture: Tarako is fish roe that is traditionally served with rice. The salty flavour goes well with mayonnaise and is often used as spaghetti sauce. These taroko Kewpie dolls are cult items and the TV advertisements featuring them are completely absurd. 

I really loved this picture, it completely cracked me up! It's so cute yet ridiculous.
Next, let me introduce you to the robot plush, Paro the Seal.

Paro the Seal was created to help patients in hospitals, homes and emergency refuge centres. Its warmth and weight is similar to a baby, which is comforting and has outstanding results among people with dementia. I love how cuteness could be used to heal.

This little dolly is called RIBBON. Isn't she absolutely adorable? The line creates products that fit in a matchbox.

Traditional Kokoshi figure, seen here as a handrail.

You get to see cute in everyday, mundane objects in Japan. Don't you think the inject a sense of fun and wonder?

The book also features a fashion section, including cosplay, lolita and maid genres. There's also information about how Harajuku came about. I included this picture in this post because I think it's pretty ingenious to use foam as hair cut-outs to create a more dimensional anime look- no wig can do this as well! 

A pregnant Hello Kitty, by Yoskay Yamamoto, who tweaks iconic characters to make a statement. This Hello Kitty was meant to draw attention to a teenage pregnancy problem.

The book also features many interviews with the designers and creators of characters and brands  (Tokidoki, Gloomy Bear, San-X, Swimmer etc). It's fun to learn about new brands and gain some insight on how they perceive 'cute' (many of them emphasise on the idea of creating cute that is 'just right', and not overly cute). Lastly I found that thought these creators may all have a unique style, overall they still convey a 'Japanese' coherence, if I may say. I wonder when Singapore will have such a distinct style?

Hope you enjoyed this quick look at the book! It's a fun coffee table book to thumb through, especially if you are interested in anything Japanese.

The moment when you realise your life has many elements of cute Japanese things as well.