Japanese cuteness

Sanne van Oosten

Japan is all about the cute, the adorable, the endearing. There isn’t a place like it. No wonder this is the birthplace of the height of cute, Hello Kitty, and that this is the place where they constantly practice the Japanese art form of extreme politeness. But why are the Japanese the people who enjoy all this cuteness so much?

When visiting Japan we made sure we could check off a host of extremely Japanese experiences. One of our hotels was right next to a so-called Cat Café and we were instantly curious about what this would be. A place where you can pet cats. Right… this just did not make sense to us, so we went to take a look.

After agreeing to paying the equivalent of 8 euros per half hour in the Cat Café we took a look at where we were. A room with comfortable couches and lots and lots of cats. There were all kinds of cat toys strewn about for you to lure the cats with and that was it. We saw some people sitting and petting a cat, some others were luring the cat with a bell. For us, it was utterly boring. The cats didn’t take a liking to us and we weren’t really all that interested in them either. We were, however, fascinated by the people who were seriously paying money to pet cats. Not in a voyeuristic way like us, but for real. After about twenty minutes my allergies started acting up, both physically and mentally, so we decided to leave.

How can you be so pathetic to need a Cat Café to get your dose of cuddliness? We were simply freaked out.

Then we headed out to a so-called Maid Café. Maidreaming was what the specific chain was called and we were escorted to our tables by a young girl. All the way, the girl was making chats with the biggest smile I had ever seen. Alarm bells were going off in my head. Being from Amsterdam I have learned to be suspicious when a server is overly nice to me at a restaurant. In Amsterdam that never happens, so something must be wrong when they do do so. If they need to lure you in with niceness, something must be wrong.

It got even worse from there. All the maids were dressed up as, well, maids. Cute dresses with ruffles and lace. Every time they came to your table they would entertain you by singing a song, doing a dance or making small talk. We started looking around the restaurant. All of the other customers were men. But it wasn’t creepy at all. These men just went along with the conversations of the maids and didn’t try to hit on her at all. They just enjoyed her cuteness. They were paying for it too. Maid Café’s are not known for their cute prices. So they were paying for cute and loving attention.

How can you be so pathetic to need a Maid Café to get your dose of affection? Once again, we were simply freaked out.

It doesn’t stop there. Cuteness, or kawaisa in Japanese, is everywhere in Japan. Being kawaii is held in very high esteem for women and girls, but even for men and boys. However, being cute is more important for women, whereas enjoying cuteness is more important for men. Cuteness evokes a sentiment of motherhood and warmth in people, a sentiment that people enjoy to the greatest extent.

This yearning for cuteness can be a reaction to the regimented society that the Japanese live in. Society is strictly male-oriented, disciplined and cold. Men are brought up to work ridiculous hours, women are brought up to take care of their husbands. Through this harsh regiment people can feel alienated. Women don’t get the love they need because their husbands are taught to be completely focused on their work where as men don’t get the love they need because they are completely focused on their work. Children are sent to school and extracurricular classes for most of the day and are consequently molded into the same system. This yearning for cuteness might just be a way to get out of this strict regiment, if only for the duration of your cat petting session or your meal at Maidreaming.

But then again, it might not be. Why should such a trend necessarily be seen through such a negative lens? For me personally it took some getting used to this utter cuteness, but in the end I was enjoying it as well. I don’t feel a lack of love in my life. I don’t come from a regimented society like Japan. I don’t fear being pushed into strictly female roles. But still, I was enjoying the cuteness. I don’t think I’m have a sick mind or a yearning for that what I feel a lack of in my personal life, but I’m simply enjoying it.

When we took our Eva Air flight out of Tokyo, our plane turned out to be a Hello Kitty plane. Hello Kitty was painted on the outside of the plane in various worldly travel settings. We received our Hello Kitty tickets, the boarding area was decorated with Hello Kitty card board cut outs and the stewardesses were adorned with Hello Kitty aprons. Every time I was confronted with the image of Hello Kitty it made me smile. It didn’t stop either. We got Hello Kitty bag tags, Hello Kitty barfbags, Hello Kitty food in Hello Kitty containers, with Hello Kitty cutlery. When going to the toilet I was delighted to find out they even had Hello Kitty toilet paper. Call me Japanese, but I loved it. What’s wrong with enjoying some typically Japanese cuteness?

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