If you’ve watched at least a handful of anime you’ve likely heard the word ‘kawaii‘ uttered by at least one character. Kawaii means cute, and kawaii culture is very important, not only in anime and manga, but also in Japanese culture in general.
From what I understand, Japan is a very rigid and strict society. Adults are expected to conform to certain social norms that include long work hours and intense pressure to fit in with the rest of the population and get along with people. When you take into consideration just how many people there are in Japan (about 127 million as of July 2014), you can imagine that this is a very difficult task indeed, which means that the Japanese people need an outlet of some kind… hence kawaii culture.
In general kawaii is a word that is used to describe young people and animals, but really just about anything in Japan can be made kawaii. All you have to do is look at their plethora of mascot characters to know that much. The thing is that even with all of the pressures of society weighing a person down in Japan there is still a great emphasis on being cute and that applies to both men and women.
A great example of this are the various imports from the west which have bombed in Japan because they weren’t cute enough such as Cabbage Patch Dolls and Barbie. While in the west these were great successes, Japan didn’t take to them at all because they weren’t cute enough, and thus they failed spectacularly in the Japanese marketplace.
If you ever go to Japan, it will be hard to get away from kawaii culture. Between mascots, toys and idols you’ll be lucky if you can go more than a few feet without hitting something that is cute in one way or another. Japan has found a way to turn this simple word into a million dollar industry and it’s not going away anytime soon.