What is Kawaii Cat?
Since you’re a cat lover with internet access, you’ve no doubt come across the term ‘kawaii’ from time to time. You may wonder what this term means and what your love for cats had to has to do with it.
Kawaii is a Japanese word meaning ‘cute’ or ‘adorable’. And it is also used interchangeably to describe the Japanese culture of cuteness.
Cats, particularly kittens, are icons of Kawaii on account of their strange and charming cuteness which has captivated humans throughout the ages.
To be clear, this is a Kawaii Cat:
This article is going below the surface because there is so much more than meets the eye when it comes to kawaii fashion.
Kawaii’s Not-So-Cute Origins
Before it came to stand for all things cute, adorable, and kittenish, ‘kawaii’ used to have a less flattering connotation. In pre-WW2 Japan, ‘kawaii’ was more commonly understood to mean pathetic, worthy of pity, a term verging on disgust.
In a culture heavily burdened by notions of obligation and shame, it isn’t any wonder that a fashion trend bucking normalcy would emerge with a vengeance.
Kawaii and Student Protests of the 1960s
The term was appropriated by Japanese students during protests spanning the late 1960s. These protests were so disruptive and revolutionary that they lead to nationwide university closures. During this time, ‘kawaii’ came to represent a rebellion against prescribed intellectual conformity.
Indeed, the rigidity of Japanese culture dictated the pace of school work. Consequently, students rebelled, re-appropriating the shameful term ‘kawaii’ in defiance of the unrelenting pace of societal expectations. By affecting childlike naivete, they rebelled against seriousness, repression, and war.
These students would deliberately read comics instead of textbooks. And they would even dress in childish clothing and adopt ‘cute’ writing styles.
Kittens are Punk Rock
To dress ‘kawaii’ in Japan in the 1970s and 80s once again rekindled the sign of rebellion. Yup, kittens are punk rock.
Or at least, they easily existed alongside an exploding punk rock culture that was also rocking Japan. At one point, the ‘kawaii’ style in all forms was even banned in Japanese high schools.
While Kawaii would retain its original look of all things cute and innocent, sub-genres of the style would emerge. These were usually named after particular neighborhoods where Japanese culture would clash with others, particularly Western popular culture.
Harajuku and Kawaii
Harajuku is one such fashion-defining district in Japan. Its name is synonymous with the style it represents. Like the neighborhood, the style is rooted in the post-WW2 era, where young people from Eastern and Western cultures would interact.
Harajuku as a fashion style is eclectic, bold, and incorporates a lot of Western pop culture. And this is mostly where the difference between Harajuku and Kawaii lies. While Harajuku can incorporate cuteness, Kawaii must.
Kawaii and Global Popular Culture
In the 1990s, Hello Kitty became synonymous with Japan as the country leveraged the mascot in much of its corporate branding. Kawaii became an international phenomenon as the lines between consumer markets became global and blurred.
There is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek quality that can’t be ignored. For instance, Hello Kitty has no mouth, and therefore no voice. This is an ironic culmination of a movement that began as a rebellion.
Fashion is First Rebellion, Then Mainstream
But then, that is how counter-culture has always worked. It helps to stoke a rebellion and ignites a new idea. Then, it becomes fashionable and is absorbed by the mainstream. Eventually, another aesthetic emerges to rebel against the established one, which ironically has its roots in the same sentiment.
Ultimately, these blurred lines and cycles give fashion excitement and relevance. It is the merging of art, rebellion, and popular culture that makes fashion compelling.
Kawaii Cats Today
Generally, if you’re discussing Kawaii today, chances are you’re conjuring Chiitan-type imagery. While that’s true, Kawaii is even broader and more compilcated than that. But of course, cats and kittens are still a focal point.
Now that you know a bit about Kawaii, it’s time to explore the sub-genres using clothing to illustrate. It should come as no surprise that we have a few suggestions. As lovers of both cats and kawaii, we’ve curated some cat-loving cute culture for our customers that reflect current Kawaii fashion.
Meaning 'ugly-cute' or 'gross-cute', these are the types of fashion statements that make you laugh out loud and maybe even recoil a bit.
The Cat Cleaning Itself T-shirt is our absolute favorite Kimo-kawaii shirt!
Meaning 'tacky-cute', this style has exploded with revivalism of 1970s and 80s fashion. While it is subjective and can depend a lot on the age group wearing it, think Christmas sweaters.
We have some amazing dasa-kawaii shirts that scratch that tacky-cute itch right behind its fuzzy little ear. The Necromancer Wizard Cat T-Shirt should be in the dictionary next to Dasa-kawaii:
In the spirit of Kawaii, our Women's Cat Print T-Shirts can be worn by anyone. Available in a variety of designs, each one is a Dasa-kawaii statement. But we have a soft spot for laser eye kitten:
For Westerners, the juxtaposition of the term ‘lolita’ and schoolgirl costumes can verge on the offensive. Even if you haven’t read Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel ‘Lolita’, you are likely familiar with the connotation and perhaps even the films.
As it so happens, many Japanese Lolitas do not know about the Nabokov novel. In a Paris Review article, Nguyen and Mai recall “explaining it to someone and she was completely disgusted. Lolita is a modest style. Lolitas dress for themselves. It is clothing that reminds us that not everything has to do with trying to attract or please men.” (Nguyen and Mai, 2017)
Be that as it may, a great deal of playful lingerie and underwear are designed in the Lolita Kawaii style. This Sexy Women's Cat Lingerie Set with ruffles, sheer layers and a cat-ear headband, is just the perfect amount of kawaii:
Yami-kawaii, interestingly enough, is a dark new spin on Kawaii culture that matches the 2020 landscape we all experienced as a global village. 'Yume' kawaii means 'cute like a dream', while 'yami' is “what happens when yume goes dark” (Refinery29, 2018).
While it looks a lot like ‘regular’ Kawaii, soft pastels, innocence, and Lolita fashion, there is a darker edge to it. True to its rebellious roots, Yami-kawaii introduces grotesque, dark, and even medical themes. Taken one step further, taboo issues like suicide and mental illness are incorporated into the outfits.
“But it’s cute, so it’s tolerable!” Explains Bisuko, artist and pioneer of the style. “The mismatch between how cute it looks and the anti-social words is what makes it so popular.”(Refinery29, 2018)
More than a passive-aggressive rebellion, Yami-kawaii is like a cry for help you can purchase and wear. “I think there’s a demand for the things people are avoiding,” Bisuko says.
While we wanted to keep this store light-hearted, we certainly dabble in a little Yami-kawaii:
Funny Middle Finger Cat in Pocket T-Shirt
Since face masks have become a necessity, Yami-kawaii has gone mainstream by default.
We were mostly trying to offer our customers a light-hearted way to protect themselves and their loved ones! But turns out Cat-Themed Face Masks are cutting the Yami-kawaii edge of fashion.
Final Kawaii Cat Meow-ment
We hope you've enjoyed this tour of Japanese Kawaii culture and our favorite pieces from the Cat Lover's Collection.
It only feels right to leave you with this:
*header image was made using work by @catalyststuff sourced here.
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