What Is Kawaii? Why Is the World Obsessed with This Popular Japanese Culture?

In the last few years, the world has taken a severe fancy to the Japanese culture of Kawaii. It took this idiosyncratic Japanese trend only a short amount of time to become a worldwide phenomenon. So, what is the much-celebrated Japanese Kawaii culture, what is Kawaii mean, and why has the world fallen for this trend so easily? In this article, we answer all of these essential questions.

The word ‘Kawaii’ comes from a Japanese phrase that means ‘blushing.’ However, over time, the term has evolved to mean all things cute. Today, Kawaii is one of the most commonly used words in Japanese culture. The Japanese Kawaii culture is all about celebrating all things lovely and paying homage to qualities like innocence, youth, vulnerability, and coyness, through fashion and other forms of art. But, how did the Japanese culture of Kawaii come to be what it is today?

Who can refuse kawaii girls?
Who can refuse kawaii girls

Here’s How the Kawaii Culture Came to Be What It Is Today

The Kawaii culture began taking shape in the late 1960s. At that time, Japanese students were tired of studying, did not want to go to school, refused to attend classes, and spent a lot of time indulging in reading comic books. The 70s was the decade of maruiji (round writing) and burikko ji (fake-child writing).

Lovely burikko ji (fake-child writing)
Lovely burikko ji (fake-child writing)

Teenagers began developing their own writing style — they would decorate letters and drafts with cartoon faces, hearts, and stars. Japanese schools showed their disdain for this growing love for expressing one’s innocence and creativity through writing by banning Maruj ji, which made the style even more popular. By the 1980s, the Japanese advertising industry had begun using the nation’s love for kawaii to its advantage. By the 1990s, when Japan was undergoing a severe economic crisis, banks and corporates got on the bandwagon and began using kawaii to entice customers. By the 1990s, kawaii had become an integral part of the Japanese consumer culture, making its way into art, fashion, and technology. As the world forayed into the 21st century, the Kawaii culture spread out of Japan to other countries through cartoons, comics, games, animation films, and, most importantly, lolita fashion.

Today, the culture of Kawaii is everywhere. Though different countries of the world may lay claim to being the first appreciators and promoters of the cute culture, there is no denying that the cute culture has its origins in Japan, where it was nourished for years before being sent out into the world.

What Makes Kawaii so Popular Around the World?

In December 2015, two Japanese journalists were captured and beheaded by ISIS. Instead of lashing out through violent tweets and religious attacks, the Japanese bombarded the social media with Kawaii terrorist memes, in the process giving birth to ISIS-chan, a lovable and kind girl who chooses melons over violence. You may think that ISIS-chan cannot solve the problem of terrorism, and therefore, her popularity makes no sense. But there is a deeper meaning to all of this.

The truth is Kawaii has become so immensely popular throughout the world as it does something that other trends are incapable of doing — it pulls out all the negative energy and evil in the world, replacing it with good and innocence. Kawaii wields its soft power to make violent things peaceful. Since the human brain is designed in such a way that it invariably finds cuteness endearing, Kawaii, along with its love for all things cute and adorable, acts as a unifier, bringing together the people of the world. This is the key aspect of the kawaii charm and why the world has fallen for this Japanese trend.

Kawaii is actually a positive attitude towards life
Kawaii is actually a positive attitude towards life

Here Are a Few Famous Examples of Kawaii Fashion

At one point, Japan was most famous around the world for its courageous samurais and elegant geishas. However, over the last few decades, the country has become equally known for its kawaii fashion, often synonymous with colorful clothing and unblinking, big, innocent eyes. Today, Kawaii fashion has not only become a way of expression in Japan but also around the world. Let us discuss a few examples of kawaii fashion.

Lolita Fashion

Lolita combines Western classical style and kawaii
Lolita combines Western classical style and kawaii fashion

The Lolita fashion sub-culture, so popular now in Japan and around the world, emerged in the 1980s. Lolita fashion was hugely inspired by the Doll fashion genre, a style craze that had taken Japan by storm in the 1980s. However, the Lolita fashion did not reach its true popularity until the 1990s when popular icons began to embrace it and made public appearances while sticking to the aesthetics of this style. Lolita fashion is all about above-the-knees couture and baby-doll dresses. It is beautified with frills, laces, ruffles, and giant hair bow pins. However, certain branches of this fashion genre deal with only a restricted color palette. For instance, while the cute Lolita sub-genre deals with pastel shades and over-the-top fashion themes, branches like Kuro deal with the monochrome palette. Not many people know this, but the Lolita fashion genre is not restricted to only women — men who follow this fashion philosophy are called Brolitas.


Kawaii is characteristic of Japanese anime
Kawaii is characteristic of Japanese anime

At the turn of the century, Ai Yazawa, a popular Japanese Manga author, introduced the Japenese Y-generation to Nana Osaki. Nana was different from everything young Japanese girls were used to — her dark-shaded lipsticks, unruly black bob, and smudged eyeshadow inspired thousands of girls to express their creativity through fashion and be misfits in a culture that celebrated innocence and cuteness. Over time, anime characters like Nana, Akira, and Dragon Ball Z inspired Japanese women to express themselves through their fashion, often breaking norms in the way. In this day and age, when media and television are often the places where the youth pick their fashion inspiration, there is no denying that the anime culture has played a key role in inspiring women around the world to express themselves creatively themselves and their uniqueness.


Since its inception in the 1970s, the Japanese Kawaii culture and Kawaii fashion have come a long way. This trend, often associated with cute styles, has taken the world by storm. Its expression has manifested not only in the area of fashion but also in art, technology and most importantly, the way we live and see each other. If you like kawaii culture, you can find anything lovely in kawaiiwow.





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