‘Pretty, Innocent Asian Girls’: The Cult of Cuteness in East Asian Societies
Different countries have different aesthetics: the shape of houses, streets and squares, the way people talk and dress, the landscape, orderliness or chaos etc. – these are all elements that create a unique atmosphere in the places we go.
Aesthetic traits such as fashion and manners belong to the visible characteristics that distinguish peoples in different parts of the world. Of course, every individual is different. But at times it’s possible to find some features that are peculiar to certain places. In this post I would like to talk about one of the characteristics that I find most remarkable about East Asia: the cult of ‘cuteness’.
Cuteness is ubiquitous in East Asian countries: from ‘Hello Kitty’ to high-pitch voices, from fashion to manners, one can easily detect numerous aspects of this phenomenon which indeed is one of the most conspicuous differences between Western and East Asian countries. Where does this phenomenon come from? What are its causes?
Japan and Kawaii Culture
First of all, I would like to talk about the country that has generated the original wave of ‘cute pop culture’: Japan. I think that the Japanese example can be very useful to understand why cuteness is such an important social phenomenon in Taiwan and in mainland China.
The Japanese word for cute is kawaii. Although it is often simply translated as cute, kawaii has actually different meanings that can’t always be rendered in English: 1) pitiable or poor, 2) something one should feel love for, 3) something small or petty. Usually the term kawaii includes notions such as childish, benign, pleasant, but also desire, attraction and beauty (Osenton 2006, p.1). Nowadays, kawaii is associated with ideas such as childlike, sweet, adorable, innocent, pure, simple, genuine etc. (see Locher 2003, Chapter 2).