The culture of kawaii is rooted deeply in modern Japanese life. From the purposeful, like cute stationery or food packaging adorned in popular characters, to the more mundane, such as likable and adorable mascots alerting passersby to be careful around construction sites, there’s no escaping the delicate touch of cute designs in Japan. But whether they’re blatant or more discreet, these illustrations and personas serve a purpose, and aim to draw attention to certain brands, products, helpful tips, or even just to serve as an eye-catching design aspect.
How it Started
It’s often said that kawaii culture as we know it today got its start in the 1920s with stationery shops in Tokyo focusing on original designs to give their wares added appeal. These shops became popular and soon more and more competitors followed suit. These artists inspired further generations and bit by bit the kawaii aesthetic evolved into more rounded, bright, and youthful designs, decorating all manner of goods! Add anime, celebrities, and big business into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for a multi-billion dollar powerhouse on the world stage.
Picking Up Steam in the 1990s
As the world continually globalizes and cultures from one area influence others abroad, fun and enjoyable facets are bound to take center stage and push above the fold. It can be said that from the early 1990s all of the pieces were in play and aligned so that Japan’s brand of kawaii aesthetic could take the world by storm! And so it definitely did!
Before Hello Kitty there was Mickey Mouse, for instance, the Looney Tunes, and of course other popular franchises well known in the United States and elsewhere. But Hello Kitty came hand in hand with early Studio Ghibli hit films like ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ and ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’, and then Sailor Moon mania, the collectible Pokémon craze, and all together these brands and series became icons and took center stage all across the world! Plus, they all hold plenty of popularity today and continue to have strong fan communities and truly add to a somewhat nostalgic ode to what makes life especially fun!
Stay up to date with Japan's newest kawaii goods from Sanrio and other loved brands! YumeTwins sends you the best exclusives to your door each month!
Strength in Numbers
Despite all of these powerhouse cultural assets from Japan making waves, what can be said about Sanrio as a cultural cornerstone is the strength of its truly endless cast of characters. But with a well-known handful of the most popular and established from this company, they keep marching forward creating new and fresh designs & creations with the aim of filling people all around the world with joy!
Show Me The Goods!
Maybe you’ve seen (or own!) a Hello Kitty toaster, or some My Melody dishware. Or in the past, you might’ve had the coolest Keroppi pencils at school and made classmates jealous with an eraser in the likeness of Badtz-Maru, the mischievous penguin. Cute merch like these are found globally and many times even featured in ad campaigns, product collaborations, and myriad other gadgets, appliances, decorations, even foodware and food itself! These malleable aspects of cuteness and kawaii culture firmly set them in place as a facet of Japanese culture as a whole.
Not only is Japan the capital of cute, but really it’s regarded quite often as the capital of cool as well. As kawaii culture is a facet of Japanese culture as a whole, it lends support to this prestige of coolness and was really pushed especially in the late 1990s and early 2000s as an important step to revitalizing Japan’s economy and to secure the country’s position as an innovator and gatekeeper of cultural cachet. The marketing genius is rather clear to see, as cute characters are quite simple on the surface, but hold the power to move whole swaths of people who are looking for a quick escape from daily routines or an added brightness to their day!
Collaboration is Key
Likely the most important reason of all that Sanrio is successful and loved worldwide is the freedom that each country's branch of the company is given for wiggle room in terms of product design. This means that different regions may sell slightly variant products based on the tastes and preferences of each region in question. In a nutshell, this helps Sanrio to fit each market type better rather than if there were no product variations at all across the world. Sanrio's trust and confidence in its collaborative partners helps foster a sense of cooperation and creativity that makes for a sense of positivity throughout the whole product design and planning process.
For Sanrio, the future surely holds much promise. Thanks to a base of a wide range of fun and relatable characters, mixed with the cultural cachet that the brand plus its home nation of Japan have been able to garner, collaborative efforts between Sanrio and cutting-edge companies around the world show no signs of slowing down. This is a business that puts people first in its decisions, and the results are always exciting and so lovable!
We’re really looking forward to seeing what Sanrio continues to come up with worldwide! Let us know some of your favorite Sanrio items and characters in the comments, and what you hope to see more of!
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