What Is Kawaii?

I did this as a guest post over on The Indie A-List blog, but wanted to share here too! Enjoy!


As someone who has loved kawaii their entire life, I’d never really thought that someone wouldn’t know. Recently, I’ve been repeatedly asked, “what is kawaii?” This led me to do some research, so I could explain it in a way that went beyond the literal translation. (I also find the history of things fascinating >_<)

Essentially kawaii is the Japanese word for cute. This can apply to all aspects of life, the way you act, dress, and the things you buy.

The physical attributes considered to be kawaii can basically be described as childlike. For example: big eyes.

20140630-171933-62373379.jpg(Kyary Pamyu Pamyu)

If you’ve ever seen Japanese manga (comic), most of them have over sized eyes, which was influenced by Disney’s Bambi and Snow White back in the 1940’s. Another characteristic found in manga/merchandise and considered kawaii is large heads and small bodies. This has been an major influence in my own work.



I find the history of kawaii very interesting, especially the fact that it coincided with the start of an underground movement in writing around the 1970’s. Teens of the time began writing in rounded characters adding in hearts and little cartoons. They also started rebelling against their societal roles and expectations with kawaii fashion, which bled into visual art.

Some of the most well known kawaii characters are from Sanrio and San-x, which all sport simple faces and minimal composition. These characters are perfect for consumable media and are deeply entrenched in Japanese culture.


So next time you see something cute, just go ahead and say it’s super kawaii! xo


  1. says

    Very interesting, I didn’t know about the whole Bambi and Snow White thing. I loooove Sanrio, Cinnamoroll has always been my favorite :)

    • shawnajereemiller says

      It was fun to research! I love Sanrio too! I’m a huge fan of Hello Kitty and Chococat….although it’s almost hard to pick they are all so cute!

  2. says

    It is hard to think that someone might know what Kawaii is if you yourself know a lot about it. I think you covered it pretty nicely for an easy explanation. Also, I always thought the history behind “kawaii” was interesting too. I especially think it is interesting that it originated with Disney movies.

    • shawnajereemiller says

      I found that interesting too! I think it’s crazy that I kept getting asked, but it made for a fun post!

  3. says

    I have also lived everything kawaii for around 11 years now, and before that? I did as well, I just didn’t know what cute was in Japanese. ;) I feel like kawaii does go beyond ‘cute’, it’s so interesting and I loveeee that you love its history!

    • shawnajereemiller says

      Thanks! I would love to learn more about it and other Japanese history. I find it all very fascinating! Kawaii does go beyond cute and it’s so crazy!

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