The Land of the Rising Sun is the world’s uncontested capital of cuteness.
One of the fascinating if not perplexing aspects about Japan is its obsession with cuteness, what is commonly called kawaii.
Take for instance, Hello Kitty.
KITTY IS NOT A PUSSY
Hello Kitty is a $8 billion-a-year franchise for Sanrio, Japan's biggest maker of cartoon characters.
It licenses Kitty's image to product makers far and wide - pens, cups, toothbrushes, stickers, notebooks, blankets, garments, and many more.
This expressionless, simply drawn character has been the jumping board of thousands of collectible merchandise goods coveted mostly by women.
But the biggest collector of Hello Kitty memorabilia is male - a retired police officer named Masao Gunji who was reported to have accumulated more than 5,000 Hello Kitty memorabilia.
There used to be news in 2014 that a pretty horse trainer Nastasha Goldsmith of England amassed 10,000 Hello Kitty inspired items.
Japanese cute or kawaii isn't just a passing fancy. It's embedded in the culture and manifests itself in social and gender roles.
Cute is no longer confined to pink lipstick, butterfly hair bands, pastel colors and such for girls.
Why, I read that there is even a Hello Kitty vibrator (probably colorum).
Meaning the cuteness market is not only the young girls, but even for those whose fantasies and imaginations stay alive go even beyond teenhood.
Hello Kitty might be dominant but she is not alone. There are thousands of ubiquitous cartoon characters in Japan, lathered with cuteness.
There are: long-time Doraemon (who really is a cat and not a robot), tiny rodent Pikachu, stress-relieving Rilakkuma (relaxed bear), and another bear, the goofy Kumamon.
There was a time that Japan got crazy over dozens of Gori-Gori (gorillas).
Some sociologists opine that this fascination with cartoonized animals is rooted in Japan’s ancient animist traditions when they worshipped many gods, and portrayed ghosts as comical characters.
Japanese manga, or comics, is an outgrowth of 12th-century scroll paintings that humorously portray frogs, rabbits and other animals in human activities.
This fondness has transformed into billion dollar businesses.
CARTOON CHARACTERS SELL
Cartoon characters are often used as pitchmen for Japanese products.
Many companies and services, even banks and now municipal governments (promoting tourism and local products), have licensed characters like Kitty or the gaijins such as Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh, and Mickey Mouse to jazz up their promotions.
These have resulted in market 2.3 trillion yen ($23 billion) revenues, according to think tank Yano Research Institute Ltd.
Go to Japan and get sated by cuteness. There are cartoons mascots for sports, consumer products, corporations, city governments and even the police force.
The traditional characteristics of kawaii are “sweet, adorable, innocent, pure, simple, genuine, gentle, vulnerable, weak and inexperienced.”
Japanese feminists say that all this cute chic is really about the cultural domination and exploitation of women in their country.
They claim that it only encourages girls and young women well into their late 20s to act submissive, weak, and innocent rather than mature, assertive, and independent.
A few years ago, Japanese prostitutes bared their boobies in public and had them fondled and handled to raise funds for AIDs-awareness.
Those who were willing to part with a few yens had the privilege to gauge softness and firmness while at the same contribute to combatting a malady of the world. Ain’t that cute?
Are women really debased?
In one of my trips to Japan, I chanced upon on television a funny game portion where naked male contestants stood behind a waist high curtain.
Apparently, to their dongs were separately connected a device that detected seismic movements.
In the course of the contest, a sexy woman in front of them moved suggestively and told stories that appealed to prurient interests.
Male contestants were eliminated when the device, probably triggered by engorgements, sounded an alarm. Everybody in the studio was laughing.
How a society – especially as polite, mindful and disciplined as that of Japan - looks at this subject matter named sex is, sometimes, gives us an insight into its culture or worldview.
Note how innocent-looking and ultra-cute girls, sometimes dressed as school girls, are a steady staple in Japanese pornography.
Of course, Japan is also known for its hentai or porn in cartoons, a supposedly funny medium.
Today, the country is currently experiencing a storm surge of less-than-cuddly characters in what is called kimo-kawaii, or “gross that is cute.”
The best way to imagine that is visualize a talking piece of shit.
The phenomenon is said to be the backlash against too much cuteness and has encroached into Japanese television, music, and even local government in the last few years.
It is a trend so powerful that Sanrio developed Gudetama, a lazy and depressive egg that drew popularity from the millennials. It resonated with the new generation.
The Philippines has its own version of kimo-kawaii. We have that in our politicians who are neither funny nor cute.
Joke ka pa dyan. Cute ka ba?!