Volume 8, Issue 1
  • ISSN 2214-3157
  • E-ISSN: 2214-3165
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Japanese visual aesthetics as represented in traditional arts such as flower arranging, calligraphy and tea ceremony have long been celebrated or even emulated as exemplary expressions of beauty. The Japanese term (beautiful) can be used to describe a wide variety of pleasing aspects of daily life, ranging from the human form to nature and even the gustatory experience. This article outlines traditional notions of beauty in the Japanese language, sketching forward to more contemporary expressions of visual culture that cluster around the term . This word is often translated as “cute” in English, but we maintain that extends well beyond its denotative sense to encompass a more complex spectrum of meanings. For example, it can be used to describe objects and practices which have both sentimental charm as well as dark humour. We argue that the aesthetic has been successful because it serves important emotional and social functions. Finally, the differences between the terms and are gendered and class based, with often providing a democratic expression of resistance to gendered processes of aging, ideas of class and taste, and attractiveness in Japan’s postmodern society. This essay begins with an overview of the semantic meanings of the concepts of beauty and cuteness in Japanese, followed by a discussion focused on the historical antecedents of the Japanese notion of cuteness. The third section shifts to an analysis of the expansion of the concept in post-war society and its socio-cultural functions. The essay closes with exploration of a few of the hybrid offshoots derived from , demonstrating that concepts of beauty in Japan are constantly changing and reacting to social and historical trends.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): aesthetics; Japan; kawaii culture; language and national culture
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