Enough of all the self-reflection, back to a bit of Japanese culture for you.
Kawaii – 可愛い . If you look up the definition of this word on the internet, it comes up with, ‘cute’ and ‘loveable’. However, I feel my electronic dictionary has better, or should I say, more definitions of the word, such as ‘charming’, ‘lovely’, ‘pretty’, ‘precious’ and ‘tiny’.
It may be one of the most versatile words in modern-day Japanese.
People who have visited Japan, even those who are quite uninterested in it and have heard about it from home, will know that Japanese are obsessed with all things cute, big or small. This goes for toys, key chains, things around the house, clothes. Think pokemon. Think hello kitty. Think Care Bears. Think high squeaky voices that even normal little kids don’t naturally have. Why else do they have ‘moe’ (pronouncedmoh-eh), those girls with pig-tails, in milk-maid type costumes with big eyes everywhere in their anime and manga? (anime is the televised version of manga). Storeclerks will insistently shout welcome in japanese in the most horrid nasal voices for anyone who walks past, as they somehow feel this may entice people into their store. For girls, to look cute is the ultimate attractor for men. This is why they are obsessed with pastel pinks, blues and beiges in their fashion (you cannot imagine how difficult it is to find hard deep reds or purples in the shops here).
Ok, so you get the picture. This is some of modern Japan that is common knowledge.
And it is not just a girly obsession, contrary to what one may expect. Boys will have things hanging from their bags like big stitch dolls at the age of 21. I have heard men say ‘kawaii’ as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.
Though obviously not in the high squeaky voices that girls do it in (last year, at my school, there were these girls that shouted “Ester! Hi!” and waved. Whenever I waved back I would get the most ear-piercing KAWAIIIIIIIII!!!!. Even my teacher said it was pretty bad).
I was shopping the other day, and there were t-shirts that some girls would look at and they would constantly say : “ah, kawaii ne!”, meaning it’s pretty, or cool. They would never use the Japanese word for cool (‘kakkoi’) unless it refers to something that men have that make them handsome – they do say ‘hansamu’ but usually to ask which boy do you like, you ask who is ‘kakkoi’. So for anything to do with girls, they use ‘kawaii’ instead, even if they don’t mean the literal mean of cute. This is the difficulty with Japanese – occasionally they have limited adjectives (e.g. the word ‘omoshiroi’ means both interesting AND funny. WHAT?)
On Sunday, I was wearing a yukata (summer kimono, made of thin cotton material) in town, and the amount of times I heard the word ‘kawaii’ shot in my direction… This probably meant they didn’t think we (my friend and I) were cute, like pokemon is cute. As mentioned before, girls who are pretty, or beautiful, are referred to as ‘kawaii’. By men and women. And in this case they probably thought it looked odd to see Japanese clothes on foreigners. I guess it’s the word they use when they can’t really think of anything else to say, and it’s usually always positive in it’s meaning.
So whether it means, cute, pretty or precious, if it is said to you, or about anything, it is a positive thing. Though it is quickly become the most worn out word I can imagine!