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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

July 2, 2006

Written by C.N.

“Cute Culture” in Japan

Have you noticed that Japan is increasingly becoming known not just for high-tech electronics and reliable cars, but also for “cute” popular culture, such as Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and Nintendo characters, to name just a few? Many people have taken notice of this “cuteness” trend and wonder what it means for Japanese society:

The prevalent obsession with things cute has the world’s second biggest economy engaging in some serious soul-searching lately, wondering what exactly is making its people gravitate so frantically toward cuteness. A big reason for the emerging debate: Cute-worship is gaining such overseas acceptance it’s rapidly becoming Japan’s global image.

“Cute is a boom. This style has suddenly become a fashion element among youths around the world,” said Shuri Fukunaga, managing director at Burson-Marsteller in Japan, who advises global companies about communication and marketing. “Marketers in Japan are seeing this and are adept at churning out products that incorporate this style for overseas.” . . .

Skeptics here say Japan’s pursuit of cute is a sign of an infantile mentality and worry that Japanese culture — historically praised for exquisite understatement as sparse rock gardens and ukiyoe woodblock prints — may be headed toward doom. . . . On the other side of the argument stands Tomoyuki Sugiyama, author of “Cool Japan,” who believes cute is rooted in Japan’s harmony-loving culture.

I am not an expert on Japanese culture, in either an academic or consumerist manner. But one thing we need to remember here is that along with this “cute trend,” Japan has also been increasingly known for its growing ethnocentrism and hostility toward its Asian neighbors. The question becomes, are these two trends related?

It might sound a little cynical, but I would probably agree with those who say that this preoccupation with cuteness has deeper roots in nationalistic narcissism and difficulties in relating to outsiders in a mature manner. Historically and despite its technological innovations, Japan is not exactly the most openminded society in the world (although we can say that about many Asian countries), and that is not a good legacy to have.

In the end, if this cuteness trend helps the Japanese to become more relaxed, easy-going, and openminded, more power to them. But if it is another indication that the Japanese are again a little out of step with reality, I would not say that I would be surprised.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "“Cute Culture” in Japan" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/07/cute-culture-in-japan/> ().

Short URL: http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/?p=270