Book Review: Kawaii! Japan's Culture of Cute

Recently I've been accumulating books about Japanese pop culture, particularly ones that reference the Lolita fashion in one way or another. There aren't a ton to choose from, but there have been a few releases that seemed worth checking out! 


The first one I'd like to review is Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson's Kawaii! Japan's Culture of Cute from 2013. Of the few I've recently picked up this one is probably my favorite of the bunch! I had actually almost skipped over this one completely because the cover made it look like a much more shallow book than it actually was. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was insightful as well as authentic, showcasing some things beyond just Hello Kitty bento boxes. Kawaii! contains a number of interviews with a variety of different creators about their own take on the kawaii lifestyle. The book is divided into six different aspects of this kawaii lifestyle!


The first section of Kawaii!, "The Roots of Kawaii" is probably the most wordy, even though it's composed of almost entirely interviews, just as the rest of the book is. There's really just a lot to be said about the early days of kawaii in the 60s and 70s! I love the kawaii characters of the 70's and it was really cool to get to see some pictures of the "fancy goods" of the era, in addition to the totally iconic shojo art of the era!

Interviews in this section include the curator of the Yayoi-Yumeji Museum, Eico Hanamura, a couple different researchers with the Kyoto International Manga Museum, Macoto Takahashi, and Yumiko Igarashi. 


The second section was entitled "Cute Design Overload" and focused on kind of "iconic" Japanese kawaii, from cute merchandise characters like Hello Kitty and Gloomy Bear, to cute shops like Swimmer, to cute public works, to even Itasha which is an otaku fad of tricking their cars out with anime character decals.

This section was one of the largest in the books and very photo oriented, but still had a fair number of interviews with the Gloomy Bear creator Mori Chack, Swimmer designer Hiroko Sakizume, and Nameneko creator Satoru Tsuda.



The third section in the book, "Adorable Eats", was very brief and all about cute foods! This section was mostly devoted to pictures, but it did have an interview with Miki Ikezawa, a rep for MaiDreamin.


The fourth section was called "How to Dress Kawaii" and was tied with the chapter on kawaii designs for largest in the book! There were tons of interviews and street snaps in this section, pretty much all of which I found very interesting (which is fantastic, because it was the reason I bought the book in the first place!). While most of this section is devoted to street fashion and designers, there is, of course, a few pages devoted to cosplay and Comiket. Books like this almost always inevitably will talk about cosplay, and I'm thankful that this book kept it very short and kept the focus on fashion designers and lifestyle wear rather than costume and otaku culture.

Interviews in this section included Shoichi Aoki of FRUiTS, Kumamiki of Party Baby, Takuya Sawada of Takuya Angel, Yuka and Vani of 6%DOKIDOKI, Toyoko Yokoyama from Conomi, Lolita models Rin Rin and Chikage, and Gashicon of h.NAOTO's Hangry & Angry line.


The fifth section was "Cute Crafts" which is pretty self explanatory! It featured a number of different Japanese crafters, of both modern cute things as well as traditional Japanese cute things like kokeshi. This section was brief but packed full of pictures and interviews with various crafters.


The final section is called "Kawaii Visual Art" and is a bit different from the design section because it featured artists who create art for themselves rather than as part of a larger merchandising business. This section was also brief but packed full of pictures and interviews. A lot of the art in this chapter was trendier and edgier than the design section and was a refreshing end to a book about all things kawaii.

Interviews featured in this chapter include Chikuwaemil, Junko Mizuno, Osamu Watanabe, and a handful of others.

Overall, while the actual Lolita related content in this book is minimal, I really enjoyed this book. I particularly loved the different takes on the kawaii culture, and even the different creators very definitions of the word!

I actually recently put together a list on Amazon of all the English language books about Japanese street fashion that I could find! I have a handful of them but I'm hoping to work my way through the list and eventually get them all. Especially while I'm anticipating the possible English translation of Shades of Wonderland!


4 comments:

  1. I have this book too! Only for 10 dolars :D. I recommend all of you, it is really great book! :)

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  2. Ooh, I'm glad you did a review of this book! My sister and mom recommended it to me, but I was also kind of skeptical of it because of the cover - I will definitely have to check it out! I also like to collect books about Japanese pop culture in the broader sense. As for your Amazon wishlist, I haven't heard of some of these, so I will have to add them to mine. XD I don't know if you have either of them yet, but I have the Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno one, and The Tokyo Look Book. The first one is really fascinating and visually rich (if a little bit dated now), and the second one has not quite as many pics as some books on Japanese street fashion, but it has a decent amount of text and interviews in it - I would definitely recommend both to anyone who hasn't checked them out. :3

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  3. I guess I have to look for this book next then ;)

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  4. Waw sounds like a great book! I've been trying to get my hands on lots of Kawaii books with info and pictures. The first I got was Misako's new book. Its so fun to look at and full of tips and tutorials :D

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