What is Kawaii Culture in Japan?

kawaii culture Cultural tips

Kawaii simply means cute and adorable in Japanese, but sometimes you may be confused if you live in Japan since many Japanese people use this word so often on basically everything. Yes, kawaii is everywhere in Japan. At home, at stores, at restaurants, and even at the station, you will spot some kawaii items and designs. If you like Japanese pop culture such as anime, manga and games, you might be more familiar with the concept of kawaii. But what is kawaii culture in Japan exactly? And where can you immerse yourself the most in that unique culture?
It can be found in popular tourist destinations including Harajuku and Shibuya in Tokyo, where the latest trends attract people from around the world. Here is an ultimate guide to kawaii culture and places to visit in Japan to enjoy kawaii culture to the fullest!

What is Japanese “Kawaii Culture”?

In most cases, Kawaii Culture refers to Japanese pop culture. It extensively covers a range of categories, including colorful cafes, fashionable clothing, popular anime characters, lovely animal mascots and so on. In recent years, Japanese government has officially adopted it as a tourism strategy to attract more international tourists to Japan.     

History of Kawaii Culture

But what is the origin of kawaii culture? It dates back to the Taisho Period(1912-1926), the popularity and concept of kawaii culture spread during that time of modernization.
Yumeji Takehisa, who was a popular Japanese painter and illustrator, opened the stationery shop in Nihonbashi carrying letter sets and papers targeting young girls, and it is said to become the pioneer of kawaii culture.

Yumeji Takehisa kawaii culture
Yumeji Takehisa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

And after the WWⅡ, when Japan got the most influenced by American culture, kawaii culture was enriched with a mixture of western culture and Japanese modern culture, and school girls have contributed the most to the growth of kawaii culture in Japan. 

Moreover, Japanese kawaii culture is not a new concept, you can see Japanese attitude to admire the small things even in the Heian Period (794-1185) in the poem written by Sei Shonagon (The Pillow Book). Kawaii culture has been deeply connected with Japanese spirits and aesthetics for a long time.

Where to Experience Kawaii Culture in Tokyo

Kawaii Culture can be spotted in several areas in Tokyo. You can choose your destination depending on your interests. For example, if you are into Japanese Otaku culture such as anime and manga, head to Akihabara, which is known as heaven for geeks. If you want to immerse yourself in colorful shops and sweets, Harajuku offers everything you associate with kawaii culture. Unique themed cafes and popular theme parks can offer kawaii experience and photogenic spots too.

Here are the best places to visit to enjoy kawaii culture in Tokyo.

Harajuku Takeshita Street

Takeshita street is a symbolic shopping street in Harajuku area. This shopping hub can be found in a 2 minutes walk from JR Harajuku station. It boasts a wide variety of shops and restaurants which are packed with the lively narrow street. Walking along the street will allow you to discover colorful shops and photogenic sweets which many school girls love to get after school or on the weekends. There are also unique shops specialized in popular character items such as Hello Kitty, Sanrio characters and famous anime characters!

Shibuya 109

As one of the most popular shopping spots in Tokyo, Shibuya is home to a number of giant shopping complexes. Shibuya 109 is among them, which has served as a symbolic fashion center since its opening in 1979. It features 121 retail stores which mainly target young adults in their teens through twenties. You can get trendy clothing as well as fashionable accessories at a relatively affordable price compared to other luxurious shopping spots around. Just browsing the shops will also allow you to take a glimpse of the trendy items in Japan today! “Moreru mignon” is on the second basement floor, where you can enjoy taking Purikura, a sticker photo booth. Other popular tourist attractions such as Shibuya Crossing are also within walking distance.      

shibuya 109

Sanrio Puroland

If you look for a Kawaii culture spot that is also enjoyable for your kids, visit Sanrio Puroland! Nestled in Tama city, a quiet suburb town in the western Tokyo, this popular theme park is visited by about 1.5 million visitors every year. It features world-famous Sanrio characters such as Hello Kitty and Gudetama, which attracts Sanrio fans from in and outside of Japan! At Sanrio Puroland, visitors can greet and take pictures with their favorite characters. Exciting character parades and shows are also regularly held. Cute attraction rides allow your kids to enjoy the wonderland even on a rainy day! Photo spots featuring popular characters are especially popular among couples or girl’s groups. It also offers a large variety of original merchandise of popular characters that can be perfect souvenir gifts. 

Photo by Alvin Leong (CC BY-SA 2.0) via flickr

Tokyo Character Street

As a main transportation hub in Tokyo and surrounding areas, Tokyo Station offers not only extraordinary transportation networks but also exciting shops and experiences! Tokyo Character Street is a unique shop selling a variety of merchandise as well as toys featuring world-famous Japanese characters, which include Ghibli characters, Hello Kitty and Pokémon etc. It’s located conveniently at Tokyo Station, so you can stop by to look around the shops while waiting for your Shinkansen or trains. You may think it is just for children, but they also carry office stationeries and cups featuring cute characters that you can use at work!

Loft (ロフト)

Loft is a famous store specialized in selling household goods. They have more than 100 locations across Japan, and its yellow logo is quite easy to find. They boast an incredibly large collection of items including daily necessities, kitchen tools, office stationery, cosmetics and original goods collaborating with popular characters! You will easily spend hours looking round the countless array of items, and its large collection helps you find the best gifts for your friends! 

Character Cafes (Pokémon Café/ Moomin Cafe)

Isn’t it fascinating if you can enjoy coffee and light meals surrounded by your favorite characters? Tokyo boasts various character themed cafes both seasonal and permanent.
Pokémon Café is one of the most popular cafes, which welcomes visitors with cute Pokémon characters and they can enjoy Pokémon themed food and drink. For more fun,  sometimes you can see Pikachu perform in front of the guests! They also offer original Pokémon merchandise such as cute mugs and cutlery. Reservation will be required before visit.  

Moomin Cafe is another famous themed café. You will be surprised to see that some foreign characters are very popular in Japan, you will see a lot of Snoopy (from Peanuts), Miffy and Moomins everywhere. Moomins are especially loved more than any other countries. Naturally they have two locations in Tokyo: One is in Tokyo Dome City and the other in Soramachi, an iconic shopping complex at Tokyo Skytree. Try “Nordic dishes”, including seasonal specials and homemade dishes in a cozy room full of Moomin decorations. One of the unique customer services they will offer is, if you visit there alone or in a small group, friendly staff brings you a big Moomin plush to keep you company! 

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