Cute and Cool in Contemporary Japanese Visual Arts

  • Gunhild Borggreen
Keywords: Japan, visual arts, cool, cute, performance, 'soft power'


Under the headline of 'Japan Cool', popular culture from Japan has gained a significant role in the global market within the last decade. One of the concepts related to 'Japan Cool' is kawaii, meaning cute and sweet, both as a style and a lifestyle. Kawaii can be seen as visual trademarks in fashion, manga, animé, and many other parts of popular culture, as well as in visual arts by neo-pop artists such as Murakami Takashi and his associates. However, kawaii as a critical concept, has been flourishing in Japan since the 1980s, and has been the topic of sociological research that stresses the subversive and critical dimensions of the word. This article investigates how artworks can offer an ethnographic account of kawaii as a sign of ambiguity and thus signify important social currents in Japanese youth culture in the decade before 'soft power' became the agenda for official Japan.