Japanese kawaii culture is, in most Western people’s minds, reserved for kids and teenage girls. It’s literally the culture of ‘cute’ – anything that is sweet, adorable and charming can be described as ‘kawaii’.
So as a, shall we say, more mature person, how can I get away with a cute look, either for myself or my home?
If you really want to go for it with fairytale outfits, a plushy filled bedroom and candypop colours, I’m not going to criticize. Do it, enjoy it and spread the love!
But not all of us can get away with that or have a lifestyle that can accommodate it so we need a more subtle approach. I believe that small touches are all that are needed to create a cute style, soften hard edges and give a general impression of kawaii-ness that’s comfortable and enjoyable to live with. It’s perfectly possible to take kawaii elements and mix them in with your own personal style.
In Japan, kawaii is all around. It’s in cafés, shops both large and small, packaging, signage and even the street furniture! Both men and women appreciate a ‘cute’ look, meaning attractive, pretty and approachable.
It’s a playful, youthful way for people to express themselves in a society that can be prone to rigid rules and formality; a bit of an escape from dull utility.
As well as an appealing visual aesthetic, I think it’s the approachable nature of kawaii style that draws people in.
Kawaii is a philosophy, a way of life and a way of seeing the world. It’s sincere, never sarcastic or knowing, with a genuine wish to make us feel more comfortable and relaxed.
Some may see kawaii style as childish, unsophisticated and naïve. Well possibly it is but aren’t those sometimes things we feel nostalgic for? Kawaii is a celebration of positivity and who doesn’t want that in their home?
So what elements can I pick up to add a little kawaii to my living space?
Pattern and Design
Many kawaii patterns have a hand drawn style, softly coloured in pastels with small details.
Of course, anything can feature in these designs but common themes might be florals, desserts such as cupcakes, ice cream and other sweets, animals and cute characters. The designs should be joyful and pretty but they’re usually quite subtle too, not really striking but something you have to look for carefully.
I’m trying not to say that they may appear childlike, like the sort of fabric you might use for children’s clothing, but that’s probably what they are!
However, I don’t believe it will necessarily make an interior look childish, maybe just a little nostalgic or old fashioned. Perhaps it harks back to a time when we felt happier or that things were simpler.
Using homeware which has a delicate pattern or kawaii design can make everyday things feel special even if it’s just for yourself.
Using a cute cup and saucer, serving biscuits, cakes and snacks on pretty plates and making tea in a teapot for instance make these small acts pleasurable and feel worth doing.
Have you noticed how characters and mascots are used in Japan? Every town, event and public organisation (plus many private companies) has a cute character associated with it to help with communication and show a friendly side to what might otherwise be seen as faceless bureaucracy.
The origins of this are buried very deep in Japanese culture and religion and character goods are important and remain very popular when it comes to consumer goods.
Everyone knows Hello Kitty but there are so many other charming characters to choose from that there’s sure to be something to appeal. Whether it’s Rilakkuma, Pikachu, Gudetama or a vast array of others, adding a character mug, cushion or accessory will make you smile and feel the character’s warmth every time you use it.
Soften Your Devices
Some people take their technology very seriously but is this how we really want to live?
I think it’s good to remember who’s in charge and making the tech we have to use every day feel as comfortable as the rest of your home can make it less intimidating.
In Japan, it’s common to see sleek design toned down, for example with extreme ‘deco-den’ phone covers, colourful cases, stickers, charms and other adornments. It disarms the technology, making it personal and fun.
In addition, the Japanese are great ones for using old fashioned stationery.
Using notebooks, diaries, pencils and pens instead of electronic media all help with creativity and reduce the eye strain and RSI that you can experience whilst using screens and keypads.
It’s also solitary; no comments from others, no approval is necessary. You could argue that in this way it’s also good for your mental health.
So go ahead, make your sophisticated devices colourful and fun, give them faces and personality, make them look cute and maybe put them down once in a while. They are there to serve us after all!
Pastel candy colours such as pale pinks, greens, purples and blues all give a typically kawaii look. However, that doesn’t mean you need to start rollering the walls and find yourself in a cotton-candy castle!
These pretty colours can be added successfully to many existing schemes either in a subtle way or more boldly depending on your style.
They blend together very well with neutrals and also contrast with stronger colours such as black, navy and grey.
In this way, they can form part of a sophisticated palette which also has comfort and softness that will help you feel relaxed and cosy.
Bring Nature Indoors
The natural world and the seasons feature strongly in all aspects of Japanese design and kawaii culture is no exception.
Many kawaii goods feature floral patterns and designs featuring trees, foliage, birds and animals.
Because of the natural theme, soft greens, neutral browns and beige may feature but always with plenty of white or cream. Pink blossoms, yellow sunshine and pale blue skies also bring a freshness to living spaces and brighten kitchens.
Adding cut flowers is, of course, a great way to bring nature indoors and Japanese homes often feature flowers whether real or fake.
A tiny arrangement of just a few stems in a pretty vase really looks kawaii on a small table, sideboard or window sill and makes an informal table setting cheerful and bright.
Many of us feel that we don’t spend enough time outdoors, especially in colder months or when the weather is bad and having these themes indoors can remind us of the natural world and what awaits us when the sun returns.
Pretty fabrics are an easy way to soften a neutral or minimalist scheme, bringing both warmth and colour. Soft pastel colours, small patterns and retro designs will all look right at home.
It’s not necessary to match everything and an eclectic approach can look quirky and fun. But a bit of clever toning and coordination can ensure that things stay looking stylish. For example, using a particular motif as a way of drawing things together or picking a particular colour as a common thread.
If you love kawaii style but haven’t been brave enough to incorporate it into your own style or décor, I hope that using some of the ideas above will help you see that it’s not impossible. Adding a few select items to a table setting, using fabrics such as placemats or coasters, pretty kitchen accessories and other utensils can all bring in kawaii touches without overpowering your established style.
You'll find plenty of kawaii, colourful and cute designs in the Hatsukoi shop, so I hope you will take a look and enjoy adding them to your home.