I’m not going to dwell on it for long, but I have the coolest toaster in the universe.
The day that I moved into my new Korean apartment, I was rooting around underneath the sink cupboard. The previous teachers had left behind some items, and I was sorting the things that I would use from the things I would not use. After a few minutes, I squealed with strangely feminine delight.
I was the proud new inheritor of a Hello Kitty toaster. Not just any hello Kitty Toaster, mind you. THE Hello Kitty toaster that browns a Hello Kitty face into your toast.
It’s the perfect example of what the Japanese call Kawaii culture. From Wikipedia:
The rise of cuteness in Japanese culture emerged in the 1970s as part of a new style of writing. Many teenage girls began to write laterally using mechanical pencils. These pencils produced very fine lines, as opposed to traditional Japanese writing that varied in thickness and was vertical. Also, the girls would write in big, round characters and they added little pictures to their writing, such as hearts, stars, smiley faces, and letters of the Latin alphabet. These pictures would be inserted randomly and made the writing very hard to read. As a result, this writing style caused a lot of controversy and was banned in many schools. During the 1980s, however, this new “cute” writing was adopted by magazines and comics and was put onto packaging and advertising. From 1984-86, Yamane Kazuma studied the development of cute handwriting, which he called Anomalous Female Teenage Handwriting, in depth. Although it was commonly thought that the writing style was something that teenagers had picked up from comics, he found that teenagers had come up with the style themselves, as part of an underground movement.
Later, cute handwriting became associated with acting childishly and using infantile slang words. Because of this growing trend, companies such as Sanrio came out with merchandise like Hello Kitty. Hello Kitty was an immediate success and the obsession with cute continued to progress in other areas as well. The 1980s also saw the rise of cute idols, such as Seiko Matsuda, who is largely credited with popularizing the trend. Women began to emulate Seiko Matsuda and her cute fashion style and mannerisms, which emphasized the helplessness and innocence of young girls. No longer limited to teenagers, however, the spread of making things as cute as possible, even common household items, was embraced by people of all ages. Now there are airplanes painted with Pikachu on the side, and each of Japan’s 47 prefectures, the Tokyo police, and the government television station all have their own cute mascots. Currently, Sanrio’s line of more than 50 characters takes in more than $1 billion a year and remains the most successful company to capitalize on the cute trend.
If you’re not familiar on Japanese-Korean relations, there has been a long-standing history of Japanese imperialism and cultural influence on Korea, and the entire “cute everything” phenomena has definitely caught on in this part of Asia as well.