Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Queen of Cute (Janae)

I’ve seen people interact with popular culture by listening to (and singing along with) current popular music, watching popular TV shows (both dramas and anime), and buying merchandise from their favorite elements of popular culture. One of the things that I’ve found to be most prevalent is character merchandise. I’ve seen many little representations of characters from anime and other sources on people’s backpacks and cell phones, especially in chibi form (I’ve even seen chibi Batman.).
Some of the Hello Kitty Merchandise
I wasn’t surprised to see these little characters. After all, I have a character from one of my favorite shows on my backpack as well. I understand the attraction because people build positive associations with a certain character as they watch the show or read the comic book the character is from, but I was surprised to see so much merchandise centered around characters that didn’t have origins in popular TV shows, comics or movies. These characters are adored in Japan, and in many cases loved around the world, simply as a thing in and of themselves. I’m thinking of characters like Rilakkuma, who is an embodiment of cuteness and relaxation, and Hello Kitty, who is the queen of cute.

Kumamon merchandise
Overall though, I think the scale of it is what surprises me the most. There’s an entire section devoted solely to Hello Kitty in the 100 yen shop. This week one of my friends got some Hello Kitty merchandise for their birthday. Heck, I even bought some pairs of Hello Kitty chopsticks and a Hello Kitty pencil bag to give to my friend back home. Everyone knows at least one Hello Kitty devotee. Though in the U.S. it seems like Hello kitty is targeted mostly to little girls, here in Japan I’ve seen a variety of household Hello Kitty items for women too. I think part of the appeal is based on what this characters represent. Maybe people buy Rilakkuma products to make their lives seem just a little bit less hectic, and maybe thirty year old women decorate their bathrooms with Hello Kitty items to both remind them of their childhoods and add some cuteness to their homes.


Crystaline Hoover said...

The ubiquity of kawaii in Japan is definitely interesting! You're definitely right about the scale -- I feel like it extends to every part of life. It's used in official mascots, it's sexualized, it's combined to make things like kimo-kawaii and guro-kawaii, all in addition to its role as something for children. There's a construction zone about ten minutes away from the KG campus, and the signs blocking the area off are cute little pink female construction workers, like here: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/c2/b5/95/c2b595b974e02882d8acc9b33ae4e5a3.jpg. Even the gutters near campus have covers with cute animal pictures. I guess in both of those cases, it's being used to disguise/distract from some of the more unpleasant aspects of life.

Christopher Aaron Koerner said...

There is in Japan a lot of cutesy stuff everywhere. There was a gift shop that advertised that it had a second floor that was all Hello Kitty stuff, and they also had a giant Hello Kitty plush for tourists to take pictures with. It is also definitely all not childrens' stuff either, as you stated. It is what is popular now, but "is it too much?", and "will it remain popular forever?" are my concerns with Japan's love of cute.