Kawaii!!!!!! I seem to hear this at least once a day.
Kawaii (pronounced ka-wy-eeeeeeeeee) means cute and is a celebration of all things sweet and adorable. It is a uniquely Japanese phenomenon and I find it endlessly fascinating.
Let me paint a picture for you…
We’ll start with Hello Kitty. Hello Kitty or Kitty Chan as she is affectionately referred to is something of a Kawaii goddess. She is EVERYWHERE.
The kids love her. Hell, I love her for keeping my kids happy whenever she pops up unexpectedly. We recently went to the top of a volcano and there she was encouraging us to buy the black eggs they cook in the volcanic heat. A very welcome sight when your kids are flagging a bit. My eldest daughter even ate 2 eggs…she hates eggs!
OK, so that’s the kids. Seems fairly normal right? Kids love cute stuff. But. Hold up. The adults are way more into this stuff than the kids.
At Disneyland Tokyo, the huge lines waiting to have their photos taken with Mickey and pals, were, I would estimate, around 80% adults. Most of whom were dressed up as their
favourite Disney idol. OK so it was around Halloween time when we visited. But still.
Then there is Harajuku. An area of Tokyo you may have heard about. The main street is pure technicolour kawaii. Giant rainbow candyfloss, ice-cream cones you dreamt about your
entire childhood and thought only existed in Roald Dahl books and girls decked out in amazing bright, kawaii clothes. In a city where you get on a subway train and the only
colours you see are black, white, navy and beige (your average Tokyoite loves to dress in sleek and stylish monochrome), Harajuku is some kind of glorious mad, colourful, crazy antidote.
So, this is all good fun. But let’s take it up a level and visit another district of Tokyo which is, frankly, bonkers.
Akihabara is the home of manga (comics), gaming and electronics as well as the somewhat bizarre ‘maid cafes’. My husband and I went for a wander and, intrigued, we decided to visit one. Well, all I can say is that it was a unique experience.
On entering we were welcomed to our seats, called ‘my princess’ and ‘my master’ by our very own delightful kawaii ‘maid’ and handed princess and master certification cards. After ordering our lunch, which appeared on a pink heart shaped plate, our maid asked us what picture we would like drawn on the top (in sauce). Hearts and puppies natch.
We then had to make a heart sign with our hands and sing a song all together over the food to make it taste extra delicious. Oh, how I loved watching my husband do this! Next it was time for the show.
The lights dimmed and we were all handed heart shaped glow sticks to wave while the maids came on a mini stage and did a little dance – the sort of dance I guess me and friends
might have made up at school to our favourite boy band tune.
Finally, we could choose one of the kawaii maids to have a keepsake photo with – bunny poses at the ready. We walked away happy and giggly, albeit slightly bemused, with our
commemorative photo and certificate.
OK, so I’m feeling a bit exhausted just writing about this. Let’s bring it back down a level. My utterly favourite thing about this trend for cuteness is how the Japanese love to make the
mundane and utterly boring a little bit more fun with a sprinkle of kawaii.
For example, there are Hello Kitty and Pokémon themed bullet trains and buses. Temporary barriers put up around road works are kept together by large plastic pink bunnies or cute brown bears. Kind of prevents you getting annoyed about a minor diversion when there is a cute teddy bear smiling up at you with big innocent eyes. Then - my absolute favourite - Hello Kitty themed man hole covers. Could anything more dull be made infinitely more fun?
Right, after that brief respite, let’s get back to the crazy stuff.
There are the dogs of course. All dressed up to the nines in their gorgeous little outfits that cost more than mine. You can even buy hats for your cat from vending machines on the street. Just in case your cat (and you) need a little cheering up.
Speaking of which. The kawaii photobooth emporiums are a pretty fun pick me up. Choose your favourite booth to turn yourself into a kawaii bunny, cat, or doll. Whatever takes your
fancy. We thought we’d get involved and have a go with the kids.
We chose to make ourselves into a Barbie family all packaged up in a box. Too funny right? Well. Kind of. I loved it because it shaved 10 years off me. The rest of the family were not so
sure. My husband looked a bit like an androgynous teenager in make-up. And my daughters looked like dolls with lipstick on. Creepy. It even freaked them out. A kawaii family we are
not. Or so I thought…
People seem to smile and point at our kids a fair bit saying kawaii and asking for a photograph (well, on the days when we can actually get a brush through their hair and convince them to wear something presentable). Cute as my little cherubs are, I don’t get it. But then, I check myself and realise I spend the whole time pointing out the cutest Japanese
kids (and I mean unbelievably cute) to my husband and realise I actually totally get it and this Kawaii thang is infectious! I’m just too embarrassed to ask for a photo!