Friday, December 12, 2008

Ramped-Up Cuteness

One of the things that’s always intrigued me about Japan is the prevalence of kawaii—cuteness. It’s everywhere—from the “helping characters” that decorate almost every public sign, to the charms that dangle from everyone’s cell phones, to the stuffed animal prizes in huge “claw” arcade games. Some Japanese teenagers also go for kawaii in the way they dress, though we didn’t get to see the biggest showcase of outfits, which is apparently in Harajuku on Sundays. Next time.

Hello Kitty is the biggest player; she’s everywhere, and I got used to seeing her wide-eyed, mouthless face pretty much everywhere we turned. If there was a tourist attraction, there was a Hello Kitty charm or souvenir to go with it, and we saw Kitty dressed as a rickshaw driver, a geisha, a fox (at Fushimi Inari), a deer (at Nara), a leek, a shinkansen (bullet train), a shinkansen stewardess, sitting in the lap of a Buddha, and in various other traditional garb. She graced the packages of snacks and sweets; she appeared on the pages of travel brochures. In one store, dedicated solely to Hello Kitty, her face adorned various pieces of sushi. She was, as I mentioned in a previous blog, on charms at several temples. I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t like Hello Kitty (how could you not?), but Andrew remained conspicuously silent when I mused on whether anyone could actually get tired of seeing her so much.

One thing we noticed is that in Japan, anything cute is ramped up to be even more cute. Think a small dog is cute? That dog’s cuteness is ramped up with a cute sweater—and ramped up further with little angel wings attached to the sweater. Think a small child is cute? That child’s cuteness is ramped up with a jacket with a teddy-bear-shaped hood. Think Hello Kitty is cute? Kitty’s cuteness is—somehow!—ramped up by dressing her in something else cute, like a carrot costume. Think that hedgehog/type creature is cute (albeit somewhat unidentifiable)? Its cuteness is ramped up with a cute cow outfit, or a seafoam-green scarf. I’d seen cute things before, but the degree of cuteness here was staggering. Kawaii, indeed.

Ramped-up cute
Ramped--cute bear, wearing a cute outfit, holding a small cute penguin (!!!)
Standing near a strange sea of cute things
An ordinary package of rice, with a cute rice grain character gracing the front
A cute can of apple juice
Geisha Hello Kitty, on a sign advertising a Hello Kitty store

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