"Cool" may have been the official buzzword recently attached to Japanese pop culture by the national government, but if the chants of the 20,000 strong audience who turned out for the Kawaii!! Matsuri (stylized as KAWAii!! MATSURi) two-day festival held on April 20-21 are to be believed, that word has been ousted by a new one: "kawaii." Commonly understood abroad as a term meaning "cute," recently in modern Japanese, "kawaii" appears to span the whole of pop culture, and is now, funnily enough, about as ubiquitous as the use of "cool" in English.

So what does it really mean or refer to? A brief glance at the lineup headlined by the current face of kawaii, musician Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, might leave you jumping to pastel-sweet conclusions. But the festival went far beyond a teen-oriented notion of cute. It also presented a wide range of events that ran from cosplay (costume play) shows featuring video-game characters to fashion shows by credible brands and boutiques, followed by performances by idol acts that would ordinarily be confined to Akihabara.

It was a mix that alluded to the vast number of interpretations of kawaii. But, moreover, it revealed a breakdown in the barriers between facets of popular culture in Japan. Street-level fashion brands, such as Galaxxxy, who presented a runway collection themed around cult 1980s animation "Dirty Pair," for example, could be found alongside expensive names such as Jenny Fax, the brand worn by idol group Negicco.