Source: Ryan Lackey
You cannot hear people talking about Japan without talking about ‘Kawaii’. So what is it? This word means ‘cute’ in Japanese, but when you say kawaii today, it actually stands for the unique and very special sense of cuteness in aesthetic. It has become a true culture and it has spread all over Japan, even farther away. You can find it everywhere: in art, fashion, entertainment, behavior, food, leisure. It has become a big business in Japan. Here are some of the kawaii things you must know if you visit this wonderful country.
Daruma dolls are an old Japanese tradition of hand making so called ‘goal dolls’ that make us pursue our ambitions. They remind us not to forget and give up our dreams. They are actually lucky charms and are usually sold at temples. They are made in five different colors each representing a different goal: a red Daruma doll means good fortune; a purple Daruma doll means health; a yellow Daruma doll means security; a gold Daruma doll means wealth; a white Daruma doll means love and harmony. At first, they might not have been so cute as today, but they have appeared in many modern variations so that they have become even cuter – kawaii.
This is one of the oldest, most popular and worldwide known Japanese arts. It is an art of making different models by folding paper. You just perform various operations with the paper such as putting points together, rotating, pulling, opening, folding, and repeating. In this way you transform a simple sheet of paper into perfect sculptures of intricate designs. After a longer practice even you can make some beautiful and elegant items.
This is a pretty modern craft that first appeared in the 1950s and it is an art of knitting toy-like stuffed animals and creatures. There are many different amugurumi patterns and their design is so appealing and cute that they have become kawaii. Even though they look like toys, they are usually collected by grown up people who sometimes give them to their kids as toys.
Preparing lunch boxes ‘bento’ to take to school or to work is a long tradition in Japan, but today these boxes are not just metal boxes. They are beautifully designed and when you open them, they often look like real pictures. Children in Japan love them. Their parents are doing their best to prepare the most interesting lunch so that even the food has shapes of some of the popular cute characters from video games or anime. But it is not only aesthetic presentation they pay great attention to. It is also important to choose the best ingredients for their children’s meals.
Source: aki sato
The first Konpeito was produced back in the 16th century and it was the first sugar-based candy in Japan. It is still produced by the same method. In order to get the characteristic texture and shape, the process of making the candy can last for two weeks. The candies are small and colourful and, of course, aesthetically pleasing – cute. They are still very popular and represent one of the unique items in Japan’s culture.
Manga are an integral part of everyday life in Japan. They are comic books that have become as important and common in Japan as rice or soy sauce. These comics have various topics such as action-adventure, comedy, business, detective, horror, mystery, science fiction, drama, romance and many others. By reading them you can get a pretty great picture of Japanese rich culture of drawing and writing. Many of them include kawaii characters, superheroes and there are different types of Manga for girls, boys, men and women. Almost everybody in Japan read Manga regardless of age.
Kokeshi are dolls originally made in north Japan. They are made of wood, have no arms and legs and are quite simple in design. They appeared in Edo-era when the local tourism started developing all over Japan. It is believed that they were made as good luck charms, but later they were made as kid’s toys. The dolls became extremely popular with American tourists after the Second World War, so they are now produced almost only for Westerners.
8. Ema Plaques
Ema wooden plaques are connected to the old tradition in Japanese shrines. The tablets were used by worshipers to write their wishes and prayers. They would then leave them in a shrine for gods or spirits to read them. Today, you can do the same thing, but they now have a cute and pleasing design. A modern type of ema plaques has become very popular nowadays. They are made as lucky charm erasers looking really cute, and they are now one of the real kawaii things.
9. Kawaii Face Mask
As cute items have become extremely popular in Japan, they have started producing almost everything with the kawaii form. Today you can buy amazingly interesting kawaii face masks with various funny emoticons. So don’t be surprised if you go to Japan and see a lot of people walking around wearing this fashionable item. If you decide to have one, you can choose from those simple ones, to those with unique prints and touch of kawaii.
This is a perfect thing for you if you like to take photos of yourself. Purikura are unique photo booths with stickers. The booths have filters that can make your photos look more appealing and you can decorate them with a great variety of interesting graphics, stickers and effects. You just walk into the booth, stand in front of a screen and take a pose. Do what you feel like, take a silly or a cute pose and have fun.
Unlike origami where you can only fold the paper while creating a model, Kirigami lets you both, cut it and fold it. The models are made from just one piece of paper without using any other item, such as glue. Kirigami allows more kawaii possibilities and more sophisticated designs. In order to make the patterns more appealing and cute, today it is common to glue more pieces of paper together which is known as ‘pop up’ art.
12. Teru Teru Bozu
Teru Teru Bozu translates as ‘shine shine monks’ and originally they were ghost-like dolls made as weather charms in Japan. It is said that the tradition of hanging the weather charm dolls started in the Edo-era among the farmers who wished for the good weather. Today they are made in the same simple way from some cloth, paper or other materials and in various designs, but with cute and appealing features.
13. Washi Tape
Washi Tape has become extremely popular in Japan since 2010, but it is actually one of the staple crafts in Japan. Washi is a kind of paper famous for the unique strength and texture and with aesthetically very attractive designs. In the past it was handmade, while today it is produced in factories and it is not only made from trees, but also from bamboo, mulberry or rice stalks. Washi tapes are not only pretty; they are very functional, too. That’s why they can be used as everyday items, as well as decorative ones.
14. Japanese Candy
The candy industry in Japan makes new products all over the country every week. The industry is extremely competitive, and in their shelf space struggle, few candies have become iconic candy classics that are still surviving the tough struggle. All around the country you can find endless varieties of famous brands trying to impress their customers with new, modern and cute designs. Those which endured have become symbols of Japanese pop culture.
Wagashi stands for traditional sweets from Japan and there are numerous varieties of them. Their diversity comes from the different ingredients and methods used in the preparation, but the main element is bean paste made of sugar and beans. Most wagashi sweets are usually quite small and very attractive. Of course, there are lots of kawaii varieties. The most popular wagashi desserts are sakuramochi, amanatto, hanabiramochi, suama and many others. Wagashi is deeply rooted in everyday life in Japan. There are different confections for almost every festival and every important date in a person’s life.
This is an ancient craft from Fukushima Prefecture in Japan. The story says that it is about a historical cow dating back from the 9th century. It was used to build a temple and then became a Buddha and turned to stone. It is believed that it had a power of keeping people healthy. They were used as kid’s toys and lucky charms. Today it is one of the very popular souvenirs with tourists. They are red, some of them have boxes with kanji on them, and the standard types have nothing on them. They also come in different sizes. You can also buy various items with the popular red cow prints of them.
17. Hello Kitty
Hello Kitty has become one of the most successful and well-known fictional characters not only in Japan, but also in other parts of the world. The Japanese company that introduced this character has started an extremely profitable business which is still there after 40 years. Some people believe that it’s been so successful because the character hasn’t got a mouth so that you can project your own feelings and emotions on it. The company produces an endless variety of products with the cute Hello Kitty character on them, so you can see them everywhere.
18. Maneki Neko
Maneki Neko represents a traditional lucky charm and the story about it is based on an old legend about a poor priest’s cat which saved his master’s life. The rich master then gave money to the priest to make a shrine and it was when the cat died that the first Maneki Neko was made. Today different types of Maneki Neko are produced and they are considered to bring luck. This character is so popular that you can see it almost anywhere: on cups, pillows, clothes, bags and even food.
19. Construction Signs
When there is construction going on in your neighbourhood, there is always a lot of noise and dust. To make the area around construction sites more appealing, the Japanese have come to a brilliant idea. Since they like kawaii things, they have started making construction fences in different cute animal shapes such as bunnies and pandas. All the other construction signs are now made in the form of little anime-styled characters which can very often bow their heads and even ask to pardon any troubles caused by the construction. These character signs have become very popular whatever their initial purpose.
20. Matsuri Masks
Everybody knows that Japanese people love masks a lot. The tradition of wearing masks goes back to the beginnings of their culture. That’s why today you can see people selling extremely popular plastic masks with different characters at all Japanese festivals. There are masks of Japanese mythical creatures like demons and spirits as well as modern and popular cartoon characters.
21. Kawaii Makeup
If you are a girl and if you need a change, think about changing your makeup. Search for the Japanese makeup and learn how to get that cute look so popular all over Japan. Just try it and you will be crazy about your kawaii looks. It is not just that the makeup trend is cute, Japanese makeup products are also extremely adorable.
22. Kawaii Uniforms
Japanese people just love uniforms. Every profession in Japan has its own uniform and children wear them in schools. Unlike other people, they don’t see uniforms as a hassle, but on the contrary, they see them as a symbol of their professionalism. The kawaii design is used for children’s and women’s uniforms. So if you travel to Japan, don’t expect to see workers casually dressed as in other countries. For them it is not charming enough.
23. Warning Signs
As cuteness has become very important in Japanese culture and a part of its identity, you shouldn’t be surprised to find it anywhere. One of the best indications of how far kawaii has gone is that even warning signs are often made pretty cute. You can thus see kawaii warnings of mortal danger: to warn the kids away from the rivers even the dreadful kappa monster has become sweet and cute. The other safety or cautionary signs display kawaii qualities, too and convey important information in a fun and lively style.
Shisa are mythological creatures resembling something between a dog and a lion and it is believed that they protect people from harmful influences. They are found in many different forms and at many different places all over Okinawa. They have become a symbol of Okinawa and today they have cute or comical and beautifully colored designs that reflect the cheerful and relaxed spirit of the country. You can buy them in different varieties at souvenir shops.
25. Maid Cafes
Maid cafes are cosplay restaurants in Japan. Here, waitresses usually wear special costumes and pretend to be servants and the customers become their masters. These cafes are related to a variety of kawaii customs such as hand drawn hearts on food using different spices or cutely decorated photos. Because of the increased competition and in order to appeal to their customers, they have started using some pretty aggressive and unusual tactics, but they are still quite innocent places. Today there are similar places even in Australia, Europe and the USA.
26. Dress up Games
You can find Kawaii in online games, too. There are interesting dress up games with sweet, cute – simply kawaii themes. There is a huge variety of themes to choose from: school uniform game, mums dress up game, dance, sport and jobs dress up games as well as shopping games. It is possible to choose different characters from Anime to Disney and to choose different fashion. You can also play makeover games or decorate and design your own room or house.
27. Jpop Idols
Jpop Idols represent a kind of popular music in Japan and it’s been there since the 1960s. In the beginning, groups were consisted of 4-7 members but recently the groups have grown into small armies usually divided into teams with almost 50 members. Of course, female idols are always dressed in kawaii clothing and they must look cute. Today there are even computer generated digital kawaii pop stars such as Crypton Pop Stars and Hatsune Miku.
28. Pet Clothes
The Japanese love pets a lot, especially cats and dogs. It is said that some people turn to animals because there are fewer human babies and others because they are extremely endearing creatures. Furry pets are particularly spoiled in Japan and their owners treat them almost like humans. They even go to the extreme of making clothes for them that are the same as humans’ clothing. Pet lovers can buy different pet costumes and the most elaborate are the kimonos made for cats and dogs.
We all use mobile phones, computers and tablets for texting and we all know about different types of emoticons in them. We use them in messages, e-mails, even in handwritten stuffs. Japanese have been constantly creating more new emoticons and one of the type they have developed is called Kaomoji. These emoticons are not always easy to understand since you can find various Kaomoji emoticons that express the same feeling. So if you want to use them, you must try to understand their full meaning and then you will enjoy using them.
In Japan they have mascots for almost everything. Mascots are usually very cute characters and they are called Yuru-Kyara. There are mascots not only for every brand, but also for different prefectures and municipalities all over the country which are represented by special endearing characters. One of the most famous is Kumamon, a playful and lovable bear which is a mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture. It was created to attract more tourists to the region, but it has become a brand of its own and appears in commercials, different products, hotels, planes, almost everywhere.
As you can see everything is cute, pretty, charming, lovely, dear and darling in Japan.
Have a good trip and travel!