Wednesday, February 10, 2010

KA Why? CUTE or Crap?


I thought it was some weird hybridization of Kona and Hawaii---but no---it’s a Japanese thing about cute.

You may or may not know that I worked for sometime at Disneyland as a Leather Writer.
The leather booth is in Frontierland across from the old Davy Crockett Frontier Outpost and shooting Gallery tucked next to the door into a large gift shop that used to be an arcade and the Pendleton Wool shop.

Basically you engrave leather objects with the guests name using a high speed engraving tool-the friction removes the tanned surface exposing a lighter colour (or sometimes removes a light coating exposing a dark colour).

It takes an ability to judge space and a style of hand writing that adapts well to a space about ½ inch by 2 inches---I haven’t done leather writing now for about a year but they have replaced the hand done items with a computer cutter.

Okay, so the reason I bring this up is that the cute metallic stamped key rings and colorful bracelets hand engraved fit right into the world of KAWAII and I met MANY Japanese guests because of my job.

The chorus of squealed KAWAIIs when I had finished their items was like an ovation…
Japanese people for the most part-and I’m speaking of people visiting from JAPAN as tourists-are surprisingly outgoing and friendly.

The young ladies who travel in posses are giggly and fun and have an interesting charm in their effervescence…I always wondered how different they are at home?

The clothing and makeup belies the repressed Asian woman that was the image of my youth-these are fashion forward young women who combine riotous colors and styles to make the street fashions which are so popular in Japan today and which influence the fashions of the world.

The language barrier (which always surprised me-I thought all Japanese spoke good English-not so) prevented me from an empirical research project on WHY the Japanese have embraced KAWAII so fervently.

Food with faces, bright colors, and big eyed characters…KAWAII has gone far beyond Hello Kitty and Animae to become its own spectrum of art forms that are combined seemingly randomly but appreciated from a distance one discovers a pattern in the randomness.

Pink, red, purple are all Kawaii-a group of Japanese girls can strip a display of anything in those colors immediately and they will be looking around for more…Pink encompasses magenta, fuchsia, heliotrope, the entire range of dilute reds.

There is also a baby element to KAWAII.

Things have to have a certain naive innocence, a wide eyed open quality that makes one smile or do that AWWWWWWW sound that inevitably comes with little fluffy bunnies and kittens.

The art and architecture of Japan has an elegant rigidity that would seem to eschew KAWAII as bad taste.

I believe the Japanese KNOW that the cuteness has a “too muchness” about it and frankly don’t care.

In a world of Tatami mats and Shoji screens, Kimono and Kabuki there is room for a more relaxed art form that doesn’t require reverence to enjoy it.

It would be interesting to see BUNRAKU puppetry meet KAWAII in some new art form that outdoes the old Sid and Marty Kroft Puffenstuff/poupee de Paris shows.

Since my initial encounters with KAWAII it has become far more complicated and I simply don’t have the interest to really explore it beyond a passing knowledge and my own peculiar KAWAII pieces.

I recently did a series of collage cards that featured intricate Japanese inspired backgrounds and colors off setting Kawaii (or some version thereof) sticker characters.

I am waiting for the reviews-they satisfied me but how will they play with true KAWAII devotees?

While I still don’t get it I know I am able to produce it because I have that stamp of approval from my Disney days making the Kawaii bracelets and key rings for the Japanese schoolgirl/tourists.

The obvious question to me is from here, WHERE?

Where will the Kawaii movement go next? They have discovered, done and abandoned cupcakes, they have humanized both sushi and Tofu and now they are into the intricate variations of styles that all fall under Kawaii as an umbrella but are on their way to being separate entities and branches on the great celestial plum bough that spawned this insanity in the first place.

Love it or hate it KAWAII is here, but will it stay?

That remains to be seen.

I just hope the west can stay out of it and leave it to the east-we don’t need any more plastic junk cluttering up our already Wal-Marted civilization.


  1. I'm afraid Kawaii has made it here. Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters are sold in Wal-Mart and other cheap stores but not to any great degree, and the cuteness factor does come into stickers and such. But there is a uniqueness to true Kawaii that I don't think commercial outlets like Wal-Mart can ever capture. Interesting post.

  2. We have an art store here where there is a huge amount of KAWAII or some version of Japanese cute/harsh charecters-thats where I got the stickers---I doan get it Lucy.....


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