What is Kawaii? Art, Origins and History
Hello there! It’s nice to have you again! I hope you are having an amazing week! So let’s start from the bottom, as an illustrator behind Miss Little Eve I draw in Kawaii style, right? But, what is Kawaii and what does it mean? For those who are already familiar with this term, you can read this quicker and jump into the History part XD …or maybe you can learn something new 😀
Most of us know already that the word “Kawaii” means “Cute” but let me explain it to you with a little bit more of detail.
What is Kawaii ?
Kawaii in Japanese ( かわいい or 可愛い, IPA: [kaɰaiꜜi] means ‘lovely’, ‘loveable’, ‘cute’, or ‘adorable and is the culture of the cuteness. It can be refer to items, humans and no-human that are charming, vulnerable, shy and childlike. For example cute handwriting, certain genres of manga, and characters like Hello Kitty or Pikachu.
Kawaii is anything that stirs feelings of love, care, and protectiveness. It is based on the adorable physical features of children and baby animals, but it also has a strong Western influence. The large, round eyes that are considered cute are an import from the West (Kinsella, 1996).
Kawaii Japanese’s culture it started to develop in the early 70’s after the World War II. It partially started with a movement in handwriting where teenage girls began to use mechanical pencils and decorate their writing with symbols like hearts, starts and more known as marui-ji (round writing). It caused a lot of controversy and was even banned in many schools at that time. This writing style contributed to the nowadays popular kaomoji and emoji.
History of Kawaii Art
We found the first traces of cute in the Edo period (1603-1868).
Kawaii took off with three major developments:
- Girl’s Illustration: Woodblock prints known a dijinga – literally “beautiful person picture” – depicted beautiful, cute people.
- Shojo : The first shoji and kawaii illustrator was Yumeji Takehisa in 1914. During this early period, kawaii referred to people of lower social standing. This did not change until the 1980s (Manami & Johnson, 2013). The expansion of the audience to teens and young women changed the definition of kawaii. Shojo also became a way of advertising and developing fashion.
- Fancy Goods Marketing: Hello Kitty is one of the icons of kawaii culture. The company, Sanrio, has managed to keep Kitty White fresh by changing the design each year. These changes and the commodification of cute play into the efforts of teens to create their own identity. Hello Kitty does not cheapen kawaii culture. Takehisa, back at the birth of kawaii in 1914, opened a stationary shop that sold kawaii goods (fancy goods) to girls (Avella, 2004; Manami & Johnson, 2013). The commodification of cute was around since its birth. Hello Kitty spearheaded the modern trend of selling cute and is one of the most enduring symbols of kawaii culture.
Kawaii Art Today
Nowadays, Kawaii Art is globally known and well represented for some of the most iconic characters mentioned before: Hello Kitty with all the Sanrio Family and Pikachu. We can mention as well the famous Pusheen but all this characters are the commercial ones with a huge marketing strategy behind. In my humble opinion I prefer other small artists and businesses that are doing amazingly !!
Discover and support a new Artist everyday
I love to discover and support new artists and their small businesses everyday, they can inspire you so much when you are a beginning artist. There are a lot of Artists out there, each of them with their different style. You just need to go and find them on Instagram explore page with some of these hashtags #kawaiiart #kawaiiartist #kawaiistyle. You will find a lot of great artists there !
These following artists are some of my favourites:
The list could be endless because there are a lot of amazing artists out there and I follow a lot of them, but I just wanted to give you a small example and different styles.
As a Kawaii Artist myself, it took make quite some time to have my own style, you need to practise every and look for things you enjoy and love draw. Looking for inspiration could be challenging sometimes. I will write about how to find inspiration to draw in a future article.
So that’s all for this article, I hope you find it interesting and have learnt something new. I would love to read your comments down below or any suggestion for future articles would be very appreciated.
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Thanks for reading!