Kawaii: Japan’s Cute Culture is a walking tour that celebrates the origins and evolution of the country’s cute and lovable culture.
The Kawaii: Japan’s Cute Culture exhibit is located inside the Bijutsu-kan gallery.
Bijutsu-kan (a collection of Japanese arts) has been home to multiple exhibits over the years all showcasing a different aspect of Japanese culture. Bijutsu-kan is the exhibit space while Kawaii: Japan’s Cute Culture is the name of the exhibit.
Based on Japan’s Shinto past, Kawaii is considered a form of self-expression. Inside the gallery, guests can see a recreation of a modern Tokyo apartment as well as historical and modern artifacts.
“Kawaii!” It means cute. Rooted deep in Shinto traditions of simplicity and harmony, this culture of cuteness has swept up Japan in its warm embrace. Cute peeks around ever corner, from police stations and construction sites to schoolhouses and supermarkets, making even the most mundane things adorable.
Join us as we examine how kawaii culture has become a fundamental part of Japanese life at home, at work, and at play.
The Melty-Go-Round statue of a Harajuku Girl designed by Kawaii artist and designer Sebastian Masuda highlights the exhibit. Harajuku is a neighborhood in Tokyo and the term Harajuku Girl is often used to describe a style of dress and fashion popular in the area.
Singer Gwen Stefani popularized the Harajuku Girl in the United States. Stefani utilizes four Japanese and Japanese American backup singers that are uniquely dressed as Japanese pop stars. Stefani has been met with some controversy due to the perceived stereotypical fashion choices of the backup singers but the term Harajuku Girl is most commonly associated with Stefani in the United States.
As moderen Japanese pop music plays throughout the exhibit, signs explain the genre:
Kawaii You Can Hear
The kawaii songs you’re hearing are “J-pop” – a movement that began in the 1960s when Japanese musicians were inspired by the pop and rock sounds arriving from the West. By the 1990s, “J-pop” had become a term known worldwide for its upbeat, candy-colored vocals and an endless parade of teen pop idols. “J-pop” now covers a range of styles, from traditional rock to electronica. The pop groups have evolved too, with some consisting of dozens of performers while others feature computer-synthesized Vocaloid idols.
In addition to the Melty-Go-Round statue, the exhibit ties modern cultural interests in Japan back to the country’s Shinto heritage. Japan’s fascination with “cute” and “lovable” merchandise, fashion and behavior is commonly referred to as Kawaii. The exhibit walls feature four large displays highlighting different aspects of kawaii culture in museum caliber exhibits.
The Characters of Kawaii
The first exhibit on the left highlights many plush characters of Kawaii. A sign in the exhibit reads:
A hallmark of kawaii culture is the seemingly endless array of mascots and characters that occupy every facet of Japanese life. Some have ever become celebrities, starring in popular manga and anime series and appearing on merchandise. But the power of kawaii doesn’t stop at Japan’s borders. For decades, a parade of cute characters have hopped the Pacific Ocean to become worldwide superstars.
These unique creations often come with elaborate backstories and biographies. Get to know a few of the most popular.
Some of the characters in this section include:
Mamegoma are friendly spotted seals that fit in the palm of your hand. They live in bowls of water, with a few ice cubes to keep them comfortable. They exist in a number of different colors and enjoy dressing up as other animals.
This mischievous black bear became the mascot of Kumamoto prefecture in 2010. Named Japan’s most popular mascot in a 2011 poll, he even performed his trademark dance step for the Japanese emperor and empress.
Pikachu made his debut in Pokemon videogames in 1996. He has appeared everywhere from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to the side of a 747 airliner. Pikachu was named a Time person of the year in 1999.
Domo is the mascot of Japanese public broadcast NHK. Hatched from an egg, the monster lives in a cave with his friend Usajii, an elderly rabbit. Domo has a gentle soul and a genetic revulsion for apples.
One of the best-known characters in Japan, Doraemon is a robotic cat sent back in time to help young Nobita Nobi avoid an unpleasant future. In 2008, he was named the first global “anime ambassador” by the Japanese government.
Mascot of Hikone city, Hiko-nyan was created for the 400th anniversary of Hikone Castle. He is based on a legendary cat who saved the 17th-century daimyo (lord) from a lightning strike and was vote most popular mascot in 2010.
With a name meaning “bear in relaxed mood”, Rilakkuma is said to be “stress-free” and “continuously lazy”. He lives in the apartment of a Tokyo office lady with his friends, lounging all day and dressing in animal costumes.
This cuddly samurai mascot of Sano City, is dressed in traditional garb inspired by local delicacies. Instead of a traditional kasa hat, he wears a bowl of ramen on his head. He was Japan’s favorite mascot in 2013.
Gunma-chan, the mascot of Gunma prefecture, is eternally seven years old. He was voted most popular mascot in 2014, and travelers to Tokyo’s Ginza can even visit his home.
Hello Kitty (full name, Kitty White) is an icon of kawaii culture. She lives outside of London with her parents, twin sister, and small white cat. She enjoys baking, travel, and music. Since 1975, she has appeared on millions of products worldwide.
Tarepanda, meaning “lazy panda”, moves only by rolling over. Unmotivated and absend-minded, they enjoy relaxing in teacups and can grow in size up to three meters. They’re very soft and multiple by dividing into two.
The mascot of Fukaya city is a fictional animal known as a “fukka”. It features two negi (a local onion), sprouding from its head. Its outfit features two tulpis, the city’s official flower, and its headband features the character “fu”.
The pear fairy Funadisu IV, is the unofficial mascot of Funabashi city. The fourth of 274 siblings, its hobbies include “rocking out” and betting on horses. It has traveled to Antarctica and even thrown the first pitch at a Miami Marlins game.
You can tell that Bary-san is the mascot of Imabari city by the cloth of its haramaki band and its ship shaped purse. Its crown also resembles the local Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge. Bari-san was voted most popular mascot in a 2012 poll.
The mascot of Shimane prefecture wears a shimenawa – a braided rice straw rope commonly used to protect sacred places. His hat resembles the Izumo-taisha, one of Japan’s oldest existing Shinto shrins. He even has his own dance!
Kawaii At Work & Play
To the right of The Characters of Kawaii display is a different display that highlights how the kawaii culture permeates everyday life. A sign in this display reads:
Japanese fans of kawaii culture incorporate cuteness into every aspect of their everyday lives. Young people celebrate cute characters in everything from manga and anime to videogames, and top executives and prime ministers have even been known for their love of kawaii things.
From the subtle cell phone charms of a businessman to the wild costumes of otaku superfans, cuteness can take many forms.
A portion of this display features what appears to be a modern Japanese businessman, a sign in the display explains how the kawaii culture has permeated this aspect of life as well.
Hiro Tanaka is a “salaryman”, a fixture of Japanese society. Long days at his Tokyo firm are followed by evenings out with colleagues and clients. But even a buttoned-down salaryman like Tanaka-san can have a taste for kawaii culture. Kawaii representations of salaryman have even become modern-day-folk heroes featured in television, films, and games.
The rest of this display highlights a range of items from small figurines, airplane models, bowls and more. Additional signs in the display further detail these items:
As a cornerstone of the Japanese business world, the salaryman has become a folk hero in his own right. Many novelties poke goodhearted fun at the foibles of office life, while others depict salarymen as white-collar superheroes.
No topic is so unpleasant that Japanese designers couldn’t make it cute. Even horrible monsters from ancient Japanese mythology or the perils of the natural world can be kawaii.
Getting there is half the fun with kawaii transportation, Japanese companies often adorn planes, trains, and automobiles with popular cute characters to catch consumers’ eyes.
Cute can be serious business. Whether warning signs or construction barriers, there’s nothing that Japan can’t make kawaii. Even the military has its own adorable mascots.
Many Japanese youth enjoy dressing up in elaborate costumes based on their favorite characters or styles. Tokyo’s Harajuku district is known for its cosplay gatherings and themed restaurants.
Pets are cute enough, but in Japan they are truly kawaii! Fans who enjoy dressing up as their favorite characters can dress their furry friends too, with a range of costumes and accessories.
Otaku are the most die-hard fans of Japanese pop culture. Not all enjoy kawaii things, but those who do can incorporate cuteness into every facet of their life. Anime, manga, and pop idols are popular otaku interests.
On the Go
When you love kawaii, the characters tend to follow you wherever you go. These common kawaii accessories, like keys and phones, make everyday life in Japan just a little cuter.
An additional display highlights the self-expression of Japanese youth in the kawaii culture.
Kasumi Izuki, like many Japanese youth, has turned kawaii style into a means of self-expression. life as a student in Tokyo is rigorous, but the city allows Izuki-chan and her friends many opportunities for fun. They can be found in the fashionable Shibuya district, shopping for the latest collectibles or posing for photos in colorful and stylish cosplay outfits.
Kawaii at Home
Continuing clockwise around the gallary, the next display highlights how the kawaii culture influences the Japanese home life. A sign in this display reads:
While Japanese apartments might seem small, the proper kawaii accessories make them practically burst with personality. A wide range of products and decor allow cute-minded decorators to create a totally kawaii home.
Whether for kitchen, bedroom, or bathroom, one can find any conceivable appliance or furnishing one could need to live the life kawaii.
This display features household items accented with characters and kawaii influence. The influence spreads through the house from the kitchen to the bathroom. Signs in this display further detail kawaii in the home.
Yes, Even Here!
If you ever doubted Japan’s devotion to all things cute, then take a look at these kawaii accessories for the bathroom. From bathmats and toilet brushes to the contents of your medicine cabinet, there’s nothing that can’t be made cute. Yes, even that!
Cleaning With Kawaii
Doing the dishes or mopping the floor might not seem cute, but thankfully these kawaii products will keep you smiling as you scrub. In fact, they might make dirt seem so adorable that you wont’ want to get rid of it!
From pre-packaged foods to artfully prepared bento, some Japanese cuisine is almost too cute to eat! Not only is every imaginable utensil and appliance available in kawaii designs, but you could decorate an entire home with depictions of happy foodstuffs.
Hatsune Miku is an animated “Vocaloid” whose voice is generated by a speech synthesizer program. She is one of Japan’s biggest pop celebrities and has starred in anime, manga, and even appeared “live” in a series of sold-out concerts.
The Root of Cute
Kawaii culture is rooted in ancient Shinto traditions despite largely gaining in popularity in the 1970s. A sign in the next display further explains the origins of kawaii culture.
Although it is rooted in ancient Shinto traditions, modern kawaii culture truly found its voice in the decades following World War II. The term kawaii was popularized during these years, eventually sparking a major movement among Japan’s schoolgirls in the 1970s. As companies raced to meet the tastes of their young customers, a revolution of cuteness swept through Japanese culture.
Find out how ancient Shinto shrines and modern anime superstars are, despite being separated by centuries, all connected by the roots of cute.
This display continues to look at how kawaii culture has become the pop culture phenomenon throughout Japan as well as the origins and influences of Japan’s past.
Modern Kawaii Design
Today, cute design dominates Japanese culture, providign entertainment for children and a playful escape for adults. Once branded as a rebellious refusal to embrace the responsibilities of adulthood, kawaii culture is now reflected at all levels of Japanese society, government, and commerce. It has even become one of Japan’s most prominent cultural exports to the world.
After World War II, Japan’s youth flocked to cute items as a diversion from wartime life. Emerging anime and manga artists drew inspiration from an influx of western culture, and soon Japanese pop art had a new, cuter style. In the 1970s the fad of burriko-ji (“fake child writing”) swept the nation, creating an even greater demand for cute and childlike products.
From elegant haiku poems to geisha fashion, the people of Japan have long embraced the artistry of delicate charm. Traditional Japanese design, the foundation for kawaii, reflects ancient Shinto tenets of simplicity and harmony. Even today’s kawaii characters can be seen as descendants of Shinto kami-magical spirits believed to inhabit natural forces and inanimate objects.
Teenagers, Young Adults, Fans of popular culture
TIMES GUIDE - OPENING/CLOSING
This location typically opens at 11 AM with the rest of World Showcase.
Epcot wishes to thank the following individuals and institutions for their gracious support of this exhibition:
- Patrick and Catherine Brennan, Windermere, Florida
- Jason and Brennan Gradnt, Orlando, Florida
- Evan and Christie Miga, Orlando, Florida
- Mayu Suzuki, Orlando, Florida
- Yukiko Suzuki, Tokyo, Japan
- Sebastian Masuda, Tokyo, Japan
- Nao Tzaki, Brookyln, New York
- The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida
- The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida
- The University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology, Columbia, Missouri
- The Kozan-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan
- The Kyoto National Museum, Kyoto, Japan
The Spirited Beasts exhibit had it’s last day of operation on October 16, 2015 and was replaced by Kawaii: Japan’s Cute Culture