I came across an article this week that discussed the concept of Kawaii and how this seemly abstract notion that best translates as “cute” in English is incorporated into Japanese consumerism. For this blog post, I will briefly discuss a section of this paper and do my best to link the concepts Allison describes to my research into Japanese soft power and Pokemon.
This topic could be an entire essay in itself, and there is a part of me that would love to research this topic much more thoroughly, but alas, I’m short on time and words!
Allison (2003) describes the concept of kawaii as a notion that combines “the qualities of amae—sweetness connected to dependence—and yasashii—gentleness”. While kawaii is linked to girls and girlishness, it is not exclusively ‘feminine’ (Allison, 2003). Someone’s personality can be called kawaii, for example, and so can a boy’s face. This definition aligns with my understanding of the concept of cuteness.
Interestingly, Allison notes that “Yasashii” or the gentle aspect of cuteness is the word Japanese producers use to describe the marketing of Pokemon in Japan:
If there is something soothing and appealing about a Doraemon or a Pikachu, the aim of marketers has been to extend and expand this emotional relationship into more and more vistas of commodifiable existence. As the Japanese toy company, Bandai, articulates this principle, a child’s happiness can be maximized by spreading her favorite character on everything from PJs, backpacks, and lunch boxes to breakfast cereal, bath bubbles, and galoshes – Allison, 2003.
The comments that Allison makes on what kawaii has come to mean and its relationship to how Pokemon has been used as a commodity speaks to the notions of soft power. It is my understanding that it is the combination of Pokemon’s cute factor, and the way both game and toy companies have capitlised on the cute appeal of Pokemon that have helped to popularise the franchise internationally, as thus increase the appeal of Japanese culture internationally.
Allison, A. (2003). Portable monsters and commodity cuteness: Pokemon as Japan’s new global power. Postcolonial Stud., [online] 6(3), pp.381-395. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1368879032000162220 [Accessed 8 Oct. 2014].