On “Kawaii” and Appropriation
I am Japanese and I find the usage of the word “kawaii” by non-Japanese people to be extremely appropriative and damaging. I’ll tell you why:
- It is not just a word for cute. When non-Japanese people say something is “kawaii,” they are not simply saying something is cute. There are connotations and implications that come with the word. Which brings me to…
- The subtleties of Japanese pop culture, style, street fashion, etc. get completely lost on non-Japanese people. "Kawaii," the way non-Japanese people use it, is like a 2-d projection of a very complex and multi-faceted subculture. The subversiveness and subtleties of things like Lolita and Harajuku culture are completely erased when taken out of context and away from actual Japanese people.
- "Kawaii" as an aesthetic contributes to the commodification and exotification of Japanese people. Japanese pop culture and style is not for your consumption. It is not for you to steal and make money off of. It is not for you to exploit. There is a very thin line between “appreciating” things from other cultures and appropriation. You are allowed to engage in Japanese pop culture, but chances are that your desire to consume it is rooted in some really deep exotification, which also ties into…
- Japanese people are not your prop or your costume, we are not here to be cute for you. "Kawaii" and its implications contribute to stereotypes about Asian people. We are not cute, quiet, submissive playthings for your enjoyment. The stereotype that all asian people are just docile is really damaging. I am not your asian bitch. I may be cute, but it’s not for you. We are radicals, we are angry, we fight. That shit isn’t “kawaii.”
- We are so much more than what you take from us.We aren’t just peace-sign loving girls in pigtails and school-girl outfits. We have an entire fucking culture and language that is incredibly rich and beautiful. “Kawaii” as a style just serves to make a caricature out of an entire culture and people.
So basically, if you’re not Japanese, don’t say “kawaii.” Just call it fucking cute. That way your words won’t carry racist implications and I won’t think you’re an asshole.
**This is just what I feel about the matter. My voice should not and does not represent all Japanese people. However, my voice calling this out should be enough for people to stop doing this. It is offensive. It is disrespectful. It is hurtful.