Part 3 in PDD’s cultural observations in Japan series: (pink) cuties | PDD

Part 3 in PDD’s cultural observations in Japan series: (pink) cuties


on January 5 2012

PDD Designer, Researcher and unofficial in-house Visual Ethnographer, James Steiner, recently went to Japan working on a project for one of our Asian clients. In what will be a three piece blog series, we will look a bit closer at some of the cultural distinctions that are manifested in the everyday design of Japan.

Unlike most European countries, the colour pink in Japan is popular with both sexes. This trans-gender (and age) role is also found in the frequent use of ‘cuties’. Whether in airport logos, cuddly toys in vending machines or on various foods packaging, small characters demonstrate the so-called ‘kawaisa’ of the Japanese culture (‘Kawaii’ is Japanese for ‘cuteness’ or ‘lovability’).

Known as a harmony-loving society, Hello Kitty or Pikachu from Pokémon-type mascots also seem to highlight the Japanese obsession with the young, innocent and many things trans-gender. Quickly becoming a popular national brand feature, the kawaisa-inspired maid cafés, Takashi Murakami’s cartoon art and pink panty shops have become a natural element of the everyday.

One of the first things (together with the disenfectiom mat from the last post) to greet you upon arrival in Tokyo’s airport is this little bear. As even some politicians begin to create their own cuties, the airport mascot further underlines the fact that these characters are for all ages and social groups.

The Rilakkuma character below is one of Japan’s most popular mascots. As a combination of the Japanese pronunciation of the word relax and the word for bear, Rilakkuma is apparently fond of sleeping, watching television, listening to music and, as in this instance, drinking hot chocolate!

A lot of the mascots are also available to buy as teddy bears. The Rilakkuma above is sold many places, but for foreigners it can be slightly difficult to tell apart from the hundreds of cuties that you see on sale all over Tokyo. This one below is both a purse and a teddy bear.

The last photo pictures one of the (in)famous Japanese panty shops. Worryingly Lolitaesque, the young girl fascination is often portrayed with a certain innocence and cuteness of childhood nostalgia, using cuties and the colour pink to catch people’s attention.