The March 2 Kyodo article ” ‘Kawaii’ culture taking hold in U.K.” gives an an interesting contrast of the differences in the perception of “kawaii” (cute) between the United Kingdom and Japan. But I’m surprised that the writer didn’t look beyond street pop culture to examine publishing.

In terms of graphic media, illustration and design, Japan is a country with a genius for pop culture. Its creative energies are focused in commercial media, advertising, merchandising and so on. The U.K., on the other hand, is a country with a literary graphic heritage. It has the same genius for character, but you’ll find it in children’s books, not in merchandising on the street or attached to advertising campaigns. There are characters in U.K. advertising, but on the whole they’re pretty much rubbish.

There’s an unspoken assumption in the U.K. that such characters are for kids. The U.K. is no more “masculine” than either France or Japan; however, it can be argued that there is a less sophisticated approach to illustration and character design within media, largely because such things as cute character design are so overwhelmingly associated with children’s media.

For a society to embrace “kawaii,” it has to blur the barrier between the world of “children” and “adults.” Sadly, in the U.K., these are still very separate things.

john shelley

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