Kosmorama goes kawaii: What is kawaii?

Wednesday 7th of March, we invite you to a seminar exploring the Japanese phenomenon kawaii. Join us as we dive into anime series, kawaii fashion, transnational trends and much more. Anyone who is curious about kawaii and Japanese culture will find something of interest. Find your tickets here! The seminar will last from 10 AM to 3.30 PM.

Guiding us through this seminar is professor Julia Leyda from film studies at NTNU and Joshua Dale, who both co-edited the book The Aesthetics and Affects Of Cuteness. Joshua Dale is a professor on «cute studies» at the Tokyo Gakugei University.  

Professor Dale explains that kawaii is the Japanese word for «cute».

– Kawai is a term that represents the culture of cuteness in Japan. It can be objects, things or people making an appeal to others – but it is not an appeal to say «look at me » or «take care of me». It is more about giving something to somebody else: the pleasurable feeling of cuteness.  

In Japan, kawaii is a huge part of the culture, explains Dale.

Kawaii is one of Japan’s biggest cultural exports. A mainstream audience might be familiar with objects and anime that depict a kawaii style: Hello Kitty, anime series Sailor Moon and the Pokémon Pikachu all depict the traditional kawaii style. But kawaii is also much more than that.


A woman’s culture

Kawaii has traditionally been a cultural movement driven by women.

– It has been largely female driven ever since the 1970s, explains Dale.

The movies and anime series being shown at the kawaii seminar has a lot of focus on female leads. One of the films, Kamikaze Girls, centers around the friendship of two very different girls. One of them is a enthusiastic follower of of Lolita fashion, while the other is the member of an all girls biker club.

– The movie is very good, says Dale.

He explains that Lolita fashion is connected to kawaii.

– Followers of Lolita fashion are extremely passionate. They do not adopt this fashion in order to attract men.  It is intended to form a community for the people who enjoy Lolita fashion.


Male kawaii and queer kawaii

The clothing, products and even the behaviours of kawaii are associated with feminine qualities.

– Men were thought to be only consumers of kawaii, because majority of the men either buy kawaii products or are interested in kawaii girls. But in the recent years, there has been a growing trend of men who are becoming interested in kawaii as well. Men have started to buy kawaii clothing attire, and depict personality traits associated with kawaii women, says Dale.

Male kawaii will be discussed at the seminar. In addition to that, a part of the seminar will be dedicated to exploring an alternative strand of kawaii: queer kawaii, which Dale explains as various ways of using kawaii to push the boundaries for gender performance.


The all girls metal band Baby Metal.


Cats playing shamisen, from the 19th century.


Sailor Moon parody live pole dance performance.


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