Term Paper, 2002, 16 Pages
2. What is “cute”?
3. Biological/psychological background
3.1 The concept of “amae “
3.2 “Kindchenschema”, the schema of childlike characteristics
4. Roles in society and cuteness
4.1 Western view vs. Japanese view of childhood and adulthood
4.2 Childhood vs. adulthood in Japan
4.3 Roles of women vs. men in Japan
4.4 Roles of women in Japan vs. western countries
5. The success story of Hello Kitty
From drawings of children and adults with big round eyes, stuffed furry animals, girlie glittery colors to computers and vacuum-cleaners to fall in love with, technical goods as accessories and appliances to cuddle, cuteness is everywhere in Japan. Japan is the country of cuteness. Especially with the female half of the population, everything that is “kawaii” (cute) is wanted. According to magazine “CREA” (in Nov 1992 p. 58): The word “kawaii” (=cute) is said to be “the most widely used, widely loved, habitual word in modern living Japanese”.
Why do cute things seem to be more successful in Japan than elsewhere in the world? Why are things perceived as “cute”? Why do sensible and normal adults fall for little pink big-headed saucer-eyed characters? What are the requisites in society that enable that success? What is Hello Kitty and why is it successful? These are major questions that will be examined in this essay from a psychological and sociological point of view.
In the first part, two key psychological concepts are explained, the first one is the “amae”-concept of Takeo Doi, the second one is the “Kindchenschema”, the schema of childlike characteristics.
In the second part, a brief outline is given about the roles in society in Japan, comparing the Japanese view of childhood and adulthood to the Western view, childhood vs. adulthood within Japan and the roles of women as opposed to men in Japan and in comparison to the west.
In the third part the Sanrio character “Hello Kitty” will be presented as an example that is analyzed in depth.
In the final part, a conclusion is presented and the paper is summed up.
The Japanese expression for “cute” is “kawaii”, a derivation of the old term “kawayushi”, which means “shy”, “embarrassed”, with secondary meanings being “pathetic”, “vulnerable”, “darling”, “lovable” and “small”. (Kinsella 1995) Now “kawaii” stands for childlike, sweet, adorable, innocent, pure, simple, genuine, gentle, vulnerable, weak and for inexperienced social behavior and physical appearances.
Characteristics of cute are weakness, dependence, passivity and childlikeness. Japanese “kawaii” means childlike and by association adorable, innocent, simple, gentle and vulnerable. (Kinsella) In the mid seventies and mid eighties, cuteness entered mass media in Japan and reached the “height of saccharine intensity” (Kinsella) in the early 1980s. Cute fashion evolved from a pink romanticism to a humorous kitsch and androgynous and even super-cute (Chou-kawaii).
Cuteness doesn’t stop at owning cute subjects, for many young people the goal is to look cute themselves, to embody their beloved cute characters. The goal is to recover a childlike emotional and mental state.
“Cute things can’t talk, can’t walk, can’t in fact to anything at all because they are physically handicapped. “(Kinsella 1995, 236). According to Harris (1993,134): “Although the gaze we turn on the cute thing seems maternal and solicitous, it is in actuality a transformative gaze that will stop at nothing to appease its hunger for expressing pity and big heartedness, even at the expense of mutilating the object of its affection.”
That is a very harsh, maybe ironic and exaggerated comment of Harris and Kinsella, of course inanimate objects like drawings and stuffed animals can not be “mutilated” because cute artifacts do not have an original shape of their own that could be distorted or mutilated, but Harris is surely right in saying that these characters were created to stimulate feelings of care and bigheartedness. I think the claim they want to evoke pity and that everybody adores handicapped distorted characters is maybe a little bit far-fetched.
According to Brian McVeigh, the cuteness complex functions as “a complex, paradoxical commentary on sociopolitical relations” in the society of Japan. That is especially the case when it comes to relationships of superiors and inferiors and their mutual rights and obligations. Cuteness is considered to be a virtue and therefore good. (Mainichi 17.12.1999)
“Amae” is often translated as “indulgent dependency” and is seen as distinctive to the Japanese culture and is described by Takeo Doi (1974). Doi sees the “amae”-comcept as a key factor to understand developments and features in Japanese society. The assumption is that all Japanese social bonding is shaped after the primary mother-child experience. Key feature is the assurance of another's goodwill to permit a certain degree of self-indulgence. The child is not only dependent on the love and care of the mother, it also lives very well in this dependence and even needs it. This dependence and the right to enjoy life and let out feelings needs a high degree of indulgence on the side of the mother and a level of care that is remarkably higher than in other societies. A Western concept that Doi felt was equivalent to amae is that of "passive object love" described by Michael Balint (1965). (Nomi, T. & Smith, W.H.)
A schema is a pattern of behavior. “Schema (scheme) – basic unit of intelligent behavior - a way of organizing experience which makes the world more knowable, or understandable.” (http://psychology.port5.com/development1.html)
The “Kindchenschema” (schema of childlike characteristics) is a term used in Psychology for the combination of physical features and behavior that are characteristic for infants and are meant to provoke the instinct in grown ups to care for them and is supposed to activate the respective behavior. It was first described by Konrad Lorenz, a representative of the theory of innate patterns of behavior, or innate schemes. Among them there are also aesthetical schemes, like the „Kindchenschema„ (schema of childlike characteristics), which can be found in aesthetical objects as well. (Heinz Meyer)
GRIN Publishing, located in Munich, Germany, has specialized since its foundation in 1998 in the publication of academic ebooks and books. The publishing website GRIN.com offer students, graduates and university professors the ideal platform for the presentation of scientific papers, such as research projects, theses, dissertations, and academic essays to a wide audience.
Free Publication of your term paper, essay, interpretation, bachelor's thesis, master's thesis, dissertation or textbook - upload now!