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Japan’s Culture of Cute

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If there’s one word you can’t go a day without hearing in Japan, it’s the word kawaii (かわいい). Most commonly translated as “cute,” kawaii has become more than just a cultural phenomena in Japan, it’s become entrenched in daily life.

From lovable mascots to adorable eats, there’s no escaping it. Cute is everywhere. And honestly, Japan just wouldn’t be the same without it.

So prepare yourself for a photo-overload as we further explore this kawaii culture in Japan! Can you handle the cute?

Kawaii Characters

Japan is known for a wide array of cute characters, many that have even become popular outside of Japan, such as Hello Kitty and Pikachu.

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Known as “Kitty-chan” in Japan, Hello Kitty can be found everywhere in Japan. Here she is posing as Owakudani’s mascot along with their famous “black eggs”.

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Studio Ghibli’s Totoro is another cute character found throughout Japan

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Pikachu merchandise is also popular. Here cute images of him are plastered all over a tin of cookies.

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Although not natively Japanese, Japan can’t seem to get enough of Disney and loves to put its own Japanese flair on character goods.

Kawaii City Mascots

Japan didn’t just stop at creating lovable commercial characters, they also have created a series of cute mascot characters for every city across Japan.

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Did we even really know what Awajishima’s mascot “Wataru” is? Nope! But it was fun to pose with him anyways.

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Koya-kun” is a perfect, yet cute representation of Mount Koya, the headquarters for Shingon Buddhism.

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Cute is often subjective, especially in the case of Nara’s mascot “Sento-kun”, who I personally find really creepy.

Kawaii City Manholes

Even manholes are given a cute makeover. Most feature cute designs that are representative of the city they’re found in.

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Manholes in Ueno feature beautiful blossoms.

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Kobe’s manholes give visitors a taste of all Kobe has to offer.

Kawaii Signs

Signs on buses, billboards and even warning signs look cuter than usual in Japan.

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The “Salad Express” with cute veggies on parade.

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Cute characters galore on various store signs and billboards.

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Cats in school uniforms? We had to pose as these cute kitties.

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Warning signs in Tsukiji Market were drawn in a cute anime style with funny dialogue.

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Another one of the many cute warning signs at Tsukiji Fish Market.

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Even the warning signs in Nara were illustrated cute looking deer… how could they ever harm anyone??

Kawaii Religion

In Japan, even religious items aren’t exempt from cuteness.

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A cute, white rabbit mythological figure on a Shinto ema wishes for success with having good fortune.

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Jizo statues can be found dressed up and make-up clad.

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More ema in the shape of cute foxes at the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Kawaii Household Products

I bet you never thought cleaning and kitchen products could be cute, eh? Japan will find a way to make anything cute, even if it just means slapping a silly face on it.

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Cleaning products galore, all with various facial expressions and rosy cheeks.

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More than just the packaging got a cute face put on these sponges.

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Does a drain guard need to give you the a-ok to convince you to purchase it? No, but it makes it cuter anyhow!

Kawaii Accessories

From cute jewelry to makeup to charms for your phones, you’ll find no shortage of cute accessories.

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Hello Kitty’s bow dipped in chocolate? It makes sense only in Japan! Phone charms like these are quite popular.

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A Mickey Mouse shaped macaroon cellphone charm– so cute you could eat it.

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Like cleaning supplies, even hair accessories become cuter with faces.

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When I went to get my nails done in Japan, my manicurist asked me how kawaii I wanted my nails to be before picking out design examples.

Kawaii Clothes

In a country obsessed with cute accessories, you can be certain there will be cute clothes to match.

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Kimono are always beautiful, but lightweight yukata are fun and cute for summer matsuri (festivals).

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Girls in cute maid costumes line the streets of Akihabara.

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Want to dress as your favorite cute character? Thanks to kigurumi you can!

Kawaii Pet Clothes

It’s not just the people’s clothes that are cute in Japan– adorable outfits for your pets are available as well.

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That dog doesn’t look amused in the slightest to be dressed as Winnie the Pooh.

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If tying a kimono obi isn’t ridiculously hard enough, imagine trying to tie one on your dog!

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Not into traditional Japanese clothes for your pet? No problem! Tons of cute t-shirts and character costumes are an option as well.

Kawaii Food

Ah, food. In Japan, a food’s appearance is almost as important as the taste– and sometimes the food is just too cute to eat!

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Panda Pocky.

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Madoka Magika themed ramen noodles.

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A cute bunny nikuman (meat bun).

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Want to make your sandwich cuter? Now you can cut them into cute shapes with a Sando de Panda!

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Adorable bunny cheesecake and cookies.

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Monster’s Inc.’s Mike Wazowski melon bread.

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Tiger pancakes? Yes please!

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Even Mister Donut sells cute designed donuts daily.

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Want your steamed bun shaped like a panda? How about like a piggy or a strawberry?

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Panda themed Coca-Cola vending machines outside Kobe’s Chinatown.

While traveling in Japan was great for my camera, it wasn’t so great for my wallet. As a lover of cute things, I constantly found myself shelling out a few dollars here and there to bring a piece of Japan’s cuteness home. I guess I just couldn’t handle the cute.

How would you feel living in a country obsessed with cute? 

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15 Responses to Japan’s Culture of Cute

  1. nomadicpanda August 22, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    I love your photos!! Your posts on Japan are really helpful! Japan has been on my travel list for a long time but it’s a priority for 2015! I’ve really been into the japanese culture so I can’t wait to travel there! :)
    nomadicpanda recently posted…The dilemma with twenty-somethings and their hasty travel plansMy Profile

  2. Lauren @ Justin Plus Lauren October 1, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    Loving all of the kawaii! One reason why I’d love to visit Japan someday!
    Lauren @ Justin Plus Lauren recently posted…Montreal Trip – Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium (Day 2)My Profile

    • Beth Williams October 7, 2013 at 8:59 am #

      I hope you get to go! It’s still my favorite country… everything is just so kawaii!

  3. Frank September 16, 2013 at 1:09 am #

    Very interesting post, love all the photos! We’ve never been to Japan but it’s high on the list.
    Nice blog!
    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted…Review of a Montreal Food TourMy Profile

    • Beth Williams September 17, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

      Thanks!

      Japan is a country unlike any other. It’s so hard to describe, and a place you just need to experience for yourself. I really hope you guys get the chance to visit!

  4. Stan July 23, 2013 at 3:23 am #

    Anime and manga are gaining in popularity around the globe. woot! Loving the photos SO much.

  5. shi-ta July 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    One thing.

    About steamed strawberry buns with piggies and pandas, you said, they are peach buns.
    Peach have been thought a kind of fruit getting good fortune in China from ancient time.
    Yes, they are cute but traditional and non-japanese items.

    • Beth Williams July 21, 2013 at 1:15 am #

      Yes! This style of bun is originally from China and was found in Nankin-machi, Kobe. However, when you see these buns in China, they are very plain looking. So I was emphasizing that Japan makes even buns look cute!

  6. Faye July 8, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Thank you for the good writeup.

  7. Dima June 12, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    Kawaiiii!!!
    Japan is such a strange country. I really had trouble understanding how the cute culture lives alongside serious businessmen, how it is so technologically advanced, yet trying hard to preserve its roots, how they’re all about healthy eating, but the ingredients of some foods at combinis may raise a dozen eyebrows.
    Since you’ve been in Japan for more than just 2 weeks, perhaps you could make meaning out of this?
    Thanks for sharing!
    Dima recently posted…Montreal walkMy Profile

    • Beth Williams June 15, 2013 at 9:50 am #

      Japan really is a land of contradictions, isn’t it?

      Really though, the cute culture is almost a result of the businessman culture. Japan is a pretty strict society, expecting people to keep real feelings inside in order to preserve face. Japanese people often feel as though they are under a lot of pressure and stress, therefore it creates a need for kawaii culture. Although most people call kawaii “cute”, there really is no English translation for it. It’s almost more a combination of cute, weak, and child-like. It’s a way for people to escape the harsh reality of adult life in Japan– in an acceptable way!

      I also think the fact that it is trying so hard to preserve tradition is a good thing, despite having the ability to become a full-on technological society. Tradition and culture is what helps make a country fascinating. :)

      • Dima June 20, 2013 at 8:06 am #

        Thanks a lot for your insight, Beth!
        As for tradition and culture, I absolutely agree with you. It’s just that I know many Japanese who don’t want their country to be seen as an exotic land of samurais and geishas. They want to be seen as a modern country. A country with with history and traditions, but modern.
        Dima recently posted…Tokyo, part twoMy Profile

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