Commentary: The underlying kawaii culture that reinforces Japanese masculinity

Friday, 7 July 2017

Channel NewsAsia Online

This was a commentary by Associate Professor Deborah Shamoon from the Department of Japanese Studies at NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, in which she discussed the kawaii culture behind news of Mr Masao Gunji’s Guinness world record for having the largest Hello Kitty collection. Kawaii implies a social relationship between a subject and the object of his or her affections, where the subject feels a sense of compulsion to care for the object. Assoc Prof Shamoon noted that we tend to think of Japan as a conformist society and in some ways, the Japanese society is very rigid when it comes to the school system and in the workplace. But that at the same time, she pointed out, there is also a love of eccentrics – especially the artistic, the creative and people outside the system – who embody a freedom of expression, including the freedom from fear of ridicule or judgement. These include children, teenagers and old people. As such, Mr Gunji could go public with his collection because he is retired, and no longer has to conform. As an elderly person, he is also seen as a kawaii, a kind uncle sharing his happiness and personal healing with others.

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