The book review leads to creation 2 THEORY OF KAWAII / A book review by nendo representaive and designer Oki Sato

09.07.16

kawaii

  「かわいい」論 (ちくま新書)

THEORY OF KAWAII  Authors: Inuhiko Yomota (Chikuma Shinsho,  ¥714)

“The depth of words that should not be uttered lightly”

A book review by nendo representaive and designer Oki Sato

I once annoyed a designer by making the casual comment, “This design is kawaii (cute).” At the time I just felt that I was misunderstood somewhat unreasonably, but that bad aftertaste still haunts me at times even today.

Come to think of it, I often think the buildings and designs I see recently are kawaii. I also feel that the occasions in which architects themselves use this word to describe their own works have increased. If I had used such a subjective word when I was a student, I would have been kicked out of the classroom immediately. If we take an overview of such kawaii designs, we notice that they are reviewed quite favorably by the overseas media.

Inuhiko Yomota’s Theory of KAWAII thoroughly and multilaterally approaches, through cultural comparison and psychological considerations, the shifting history of the aesthetics of kawaii that has become a global ideology and a cultural product (a two trillion yen industry) since it was defined as utsukushikimono (a beautiful adolescent person) in Makuranososhi (The Pillow Book) in the 11th century. It elaborately demonstrates the broad meaning of the word and the fact there is no equivalent in other foreign languages, and touches upon the unique quality of Japanese society where a market targeting junior high and high school students is established, unlike western culture that sees “a yet immature existence” as something negative. We certainly can’t deny the fact that such words as “cute” and “pretty” cannot cover the meaning of the word when we hear it being used in such phrases as kawaii ojisan (“sweet” slightly older man).

What is particularly interesting in the book is the question, “What is the antonym of kawaii?” It states that utsukushii (beautiful) that has been considered as its synonym is actually the antonym, and there is only a fine line between it and minikui (ugly) that has been considered as its antonym, and that these two words are in a mutually attracting relation. According to the author, this relation between the two words can be endorsed esthetically by the coined word kimo-kawa (kimochiwarui (creepy) + kawaii). Although you might feel left behind when words are combined like this, it is not inconceivable to interpret the design of such young designers in the world as kimo-kawaii design.

It also states that “nostalgia” symbolized by memories of our infancy is closely related to kawaii. This in part echoes Naoto Fukasawa’s concept of “Design Dissolving in Behavior,” which is a type of design that reminds people of what they already know, and the author also mentions the Japanese “culture of contraction” represented by bonsai and haiku, but this is exactly the Japanese minimalism viewed from overseas.

Towards the end of the book the author goes as far as comparing the use of the word between genders, and even its ambiguity across generations, but the more I explore it the more it escapes my grasp, just like trying to catch an eel with one’s bare hands. One thing I’m certain about is that one should not use the word kawaii so casually about somebody else’s design. (from AXIS vol. 135)

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