'Ambassadors of Cute' take Japanese 'kawaii' to the world
Whether at a luxury fashion boutique, a clothes store or even a 100-yen shop, the first word out of most young women's mouths the moment something grabs their attention is "kawaii!" (cute!).
And with Japanese characters like Hello Kitty, anime and fashion all gaining popularity abroad, the word "kawaii" is becoming understood across the globe.
So to take advantage of this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nominated three young women as "Ambassadors of Cute" earlier this year. The "ambassadors" are already taking part in events abroad, and will be appearing at the Japan Expo in Paris in July.
And so many different items can elicit the cry -- a glitter-caked T-shirt, an especially frilly miniskirt or a ribbon dress -- and subgenres such as the goth-like "Kimokawa," "Otona Kawaii" (mature cute), "Kawamen" (men's cute) have also appeared, making it even harder to pin down exactly what "kawaii" is.
Answers collected from the streets include "girly things" and "soft fluffy things"; but aside from the conventional image of cute, other answers were dark, frilly "kind of mismatched" clothes, and cheaper, handmade items.
From cheap "Yasu-Kawa," to the sexier "Ero-Kawa" outfits that are paraded around, from the stately "Hime-Kawa" (princess cute) to the monochromatic "Gosu-Kawa" (goth cute), Japanese fashion is growing more and more fragmented.
So why do these varied styles all earn the moniker of "cute"? Some feel that young women today simply have a poorer vocabulary than previous generations. Another theory is that a common label to describe these fractured styles provides women with a sense of security, and one woman interviewed claimed that "You can feel the cuteness from things that don't change."
It appears that the main line of fashion in Japan is shifting from what's in vogue to what's cute. (By Asuka Watanabe, lecturer in the Department of the Science of Living at Kyoritsu Women's Junior College)