A New Generation of Kawaii Cat Culture
The Japanese word Kawaii is often simply defined as cute. However kawaii is much more than just cute.
Kawaii is a global pop culture phenomenon expanding far beyond the small islands of Japan. The kawaii culture has cracked all areas of pop culture from fashion, music, toys and yes, there is even kawaii cats!
Today we are going to show you how the global kawaii culture has fused with Japan’s obsession with cats and has fueled a new generation of uber cute cat culture.
The True Meaning of Kawaii
The word “kawaii” is derived from a phrase that means ” a radiant face” which refers to the blushing of an embarrassed person. Over time, the meaning mutated to the modern “cute” while the way it’s written in the Japanese alphabet literally means “able to be loved” – a great clue for amateur psychologists.
Why is Japan so obsessed with Kawaii?
Japan’s culture of cute began in the 1970’s as Japanese teenage girls began a fad of writing in a new, cute, and bubbly style often tagged with cute little pictures (think – emojis).
The schools quickly banned this writing style, but many feel like it only fueled the teenage rebellion.
Advertisers, like the stationary company Sanrio, quickly caught on and used it to speak the language of the younger generation. It quickly started popping up in magazines and comics, and in 1974 we witnessed the birth of the global kawaii cat icon Hello Kitty from Sanrio.
This über cute kawaii cat fueled the kawaii explosion and craze, spinning Sanrio into a marketing and merchandise juggernaut. Over 50,000 products later and spanning across 70 countries, the Hello Kitty icon was named Japan’s tourism ambassador in 2008, officially declaring to the world that Japanese kawaii culture was here to stay.
Even each of Japan’s 47 governmental offices has its own kawaii mascot like the Kumamon bear for the Kumamoto Prefecture. The Kumamon bear as turned into a merchandising giant as well, earning billions, as reported by BBC News.
Japan’s Cat Obsession
Japan’s obsession with kawaii cats didn’t start with Hello Kitty however. Their cat obsession has been ingrained in the Japanese culture for generations.
In Japanese folklore, cats have protective powers and symbolize good fortune symbolized by “Maneki Neko”.
Maneki Neko in Japanese means “beckoning cat.” The cat has its paw raised as if it’s waving in good fortune for its owners. Other common monikers include Fortune Cat, Lucky Cat, Money Cat, and Welcoming Cat. Maneki Neko raised paw also has meaning. If it’s the left paw, this is supposed to attract customers. If the right paw is raised, this invites good fortune and money.
Maneki Neko "Money Cat"
Japan’s Cat Island
It’s not only the cat symbols that Japan praises, but also the cat’s themselves. Tashirojima (田代島) is a small island in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Japan. It lies in the Pacific Ocean off the Oshika Peninsula, to the west of Ajishima. Tashirojima, is one of the about a dozen ideals around Japan that are known as the “cat islands”
On cat island, the cat population outnumbers the human population 6 to 1
The human population doesn’t mind at all either, as they firmly believe the cats bring good fortune. On some islands that can be up to 10,000 cats.
Wow, that’s a lot of cats.
Japan Cat Cafes Are A Big Deal
Japan’s cat obsession doesn’t just end at its cat island either. Japan is home to one of the largest collection of cat cafes in the world.
The cat cafe idea originated in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998. Seeing that it the business was hugely popular with Japanese tourists, one of them took the idea back to Japan and opened its doors in Osaka in 2004.
Since then the cat cafe market has boomed in Japan to over 150 cat cafes.
The idea has even expanded globally with cat cafes in just about every major city, like the Kawaii Cat Cafe in Philadelphia.
Japan’s Kawaii Cat Game Goes Viral Globally
Kawaii cat characters can be seen expanding into digital realms. It may have started with the Tamagotchis.
Tamagotchis nostalgia-inducing time capsule for those who came of age in the ’90s— a small handheld digital game that required owners to look after their small and helpless digital pets, caring for them as they grow.
Recently, the hugely popular hit kawaii cat game for Android and iOS, Neko Atsume has been stealing all the headlines.
Made by a Japanese game company Hit-Point, the game was propelled into global popularity after Apple ran a promotion for cat-based games on the Japanese informal holiday called “The Day of the Cat”. Yes, thats a thing.
Thats not all.
Interest in Kawaii is Crazy
As shown by Google trends [Sept 27, 2017] the interest in the search term kawaii has never been higher and seen rapid growth over the past 5 years.
And it’s not just Japan or the US either that’s leading the interest, we see that surprisingly that its countries like Chile, Mexico and El Salvador in the top 3. Kawaii has definitely gone global.
US Based Kawaii Box Business Booms
It seems American’s can’t get enough kawaii either. Kawaii Box, a new subscription-based service delivers a delightful box full of curated kawaii goodies to your doorstep each month. The under $20USD per month service has been hugely popular, getting featured by mainstream media like NBC and Buzzfeed.
Kawaii Cat Culture Spawns Amazing Products
As the kawaii cat culture explosion continues, it permeates all aspects of pop culture. From fashion, technology, entertainment to home products, it seems like kawaii cat products and merchandise will see no end.
So how can you join in on kawaii cat culture?
Well in the past it was difficult to reach any type of products or inspiration, as Japan was just too far and the language barrier just too difficult.
But things have changed.
We have collected some of our favorite kawaii cat products for you to browse below (some of them are affiliate links). There is some of kawaii cat products available on Amazon, however the selection is sparse. It seems that Aliexpress has a much wider selection, better pricing and can delivery globally quickly and cheaply.
One product we thought worthy to single was the Squishy Cat iPhone Case. This internet viral sensation phone case set social media networks on fire, and selling out from most suppliers globally for the first few months.
Although this phone case is not a licensed product by a specific brand, it seems the Neko Atsume game was a source of inspiration.
Squishy Squish Cat Phone Case
Squishy Cat iPhone Case
- TPU back case designed with 3D soft silicone cartoon animal, pinch the cartoon to relieve the pressure
- Poke it, squish it, rub it and get that amazing feeling! An alternative to fidget spinners
- Captivating the lazy and sleepy side to our feline friends, this phone case is sure to put a smile on your face and help to relieve stress by touching squishy kitty belly
- There's an adorable and squishy cat lying on this essential accessory piece, this case will always be guarded by your loyal and lovely kitty
- Note: The cat body is very easy to get dirty. You can use the cotton swab moistened with Moisturizing Milk or Alcohol to wipe off the stains. You can sprinkle some baby powder or Mineral powder on the cat body when you feel it is too sticky
Polytree Women's Knit Cat Ears Beanie (Black)
- Cat ear style knit wool beanie keeps you warm and cute
- Great fit and easy to wear
- Head Circumference: 20.47
- Package Included: 1 x Hat
Censi Music Headset Headphone Creative Cat Ear Stereo Over-ear Game Gaming Bass Headset Noise Canceling Headband Earphone for ipad, PC, iphone and Android Smartphones (Black, Wired)
- The Concept of the Replaced Headset Accessories is the Most New Design,Comparing With the Traditional. Two Grooves Design to Achieve the Removal and Replacement of Accessories, Free to Switch and Low-key Personality.Kawaii Cat Ears Accessories Cater to the Younger Who Want Personality and Appearance; and Removal of Accessories You Can Break the Boundaries of Age and Gender, but also for those Who Prefer a Low-Key Quality-Oriented Enthusiasts.
- Korea protein soft leather, 3D Cut and Crystal with Memory Foam Ear Blasting Technology Design can Combine the Two Functions of Reducting noise and Comfort to wear, Can be Isolated from the Hustle and Bustle, so you calm down and listen to the real voice
- Using market common 3.5mm headphone plug, 40mm big moving coil, low impedance 32 ohms, less than 0.5 ohm wire, it exudes a beautiful pleasant voice, can be an ideal life partner.
- Enjoy melodious music while you work on the computer or play PC games
- You will get a premium carrying case with molded foam inside to ensure your headphone safe when it not in using
TOMORI® Cute Women Anime Kaomoji-kun Emotiction plush kawaii Cat single Cross Body shoulder bag (Grey)
- Material: 100% high-quality plush,super soft Fabrics
- Size: Height 25 cm x Wide 25 cm(9.8x9.8inch)
- Super cute Cat single shoulder bag with a tail,light-weight, soft and colorful,Fancy and delicate gift for yourself and your friends!
- The head pocket is spacious enough to fit a wallet,phone the little back pocket is perfect for keys or other little things
- You may select any pattern color you like, which suitable for you Dating,school,dinner party, shopping ,Traveling or gathering.