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Kawaii: Made in Japan.

Japan is the country of state-of-the-art technologies, high-speed trains, kabuki theater and kawaii. This is the Japanese word that means "cute". Any entity can fall under this subjective definition if found to be kawaii or, in other words, cute. Kawaii began to spread in Japan as aspect of Japanese culture, entertainment, clothes, toys, appearance, style of behavior and manners since 1970-s. Such cultural phenomenon can not but cause curiosity of outsiders, since kawaii is used regardless gender, age and in a way that at times can seem to be something light-minded or even childish for non-Japanese strangers.The area of Tokyo called Akihabara is a kind of Mecca for kawaii and related pop-culture. Previously, Akihabara or Akiba, as Japanese call this area shortly, was more famous as "electric city". Akiba is still electric city, but stores of electric devices and home appliances are slowly replaced by shops and cafes on anime and manga related topics. Anime is derivative from the English "animation" and is used to call Japanese animation films. If animation films of other countries are more intended for children, Japanese anime are mainly intended for teenagers and adults. Anime specialists say this is why the popularity of Japanese anime is growing throughout the world. The plots of anime are distinguished by diversity of characters, locations and time, styles and genres.Anime is most frequently based on manga -- Japanese cartoons. The word "manga" itself is literally translated as "funny pictures". Manga originated from works made by Japanese painters of the late 18th and early 19th century, who called their paintings as manga. The phenomenon of manga caused book publishing boom in 1950-s in Japan and since that time is successfully spreading on across the world. Likewise anime, manga have a diversity of plots, topics and characters. There are series for kids, however, manga for teenagers and adults prevail.Those people who are obsessed with anime or manga are called otaku in Japan, which means fan of manga or anime. Anime and manga fans (mainly teenagers and young people above 20, as they call themselves) are provided full freedom of actions and a rich supply of anime and manga related goods. Akiba offers a great variety of stores where anime and manga related goods are sold. Such stores have almost everything for fans -- starting from figures of anime or manga characters, different table games, cards, video games and umbrellas to elegant clothes of favorite characters that can be worn. However, T-shirts with anime characters on are mostly popular among other goods, said Tatsunari Namai, 25-year-old cashier of one of the biggest anime shops Kotobukiya.Not only otaku visit anime stores, otaku constitute only 30% of all clients. Foreigners and non-otaku Japanese citizens also visit such stores very frequently. Though there is competition between such stores, but they handle this issue constructively -- by offering some kind of unique goods that can not be found anywhere else.Former Prime Minister of Japan Taro Aso is also referred to as otaku. He has been manga fan since childhood. Taro Aso believes that Japanese pop culture can be an important step to cultivating ties with other countries, hoping that manga will act as a bridge to the world. Otaku do not limit themselves only to watching animation films and buying things at anime or manga related selling points. They put on costumes of favorite anime or manga characters and meet with their friends wearing such costumes too. This is called cosplay from English costume play. Besides, anime festival called Comic Market is held biannually in Odaiba area of Tokyo. Some 650 thousand anime fans attended the latest Comic Market.Cosplay fans can derive benefit from their hobby by working in the so-called maid cafes. In such cafes waitresses wear English or French maid outfit. Their appearance may vary by the length of dress, head accessories -- maid headbands, neko (meaning cat in Japanese) or bunny ears. But what will be the same everywhere is a high attention to each visitor, a high level of service and everything will be kawaii! Such cafes are mostly popular among men, however, women visit such places often too. Besides, there are some variations - butler cafe -- where waiters are males wearing butler outfit.I do not attempt to judge whether to consider kawaii aesthetics and anime and manga sub-culture more a childish hobby or not, but more conservative people of older age in Japan treat this phenomena like existing reality. Moreover, in 2009 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (which is very respected government agency) delegated 3 Kawaii Ambassadors (cute young models) to the cosplay festival in Paris and another 2 Kawaii Ambassadors to the similar event in Bangkok.Much earlier, Japan gained the world recognition by such its brands as Sony, Panasonic, Toyota and many others. Sushi and sashimi are eaten now across the world. Perhaps, the time has come for gradual "globalization" of a new phenomenon kawaii that originated in Japan.Lola Abdukhametova //AKIpress, CA-NewsEditor's Note: The given material was prepared as part of the training program for young journalists from Central Asia held in Tokyo from March 8 to 19 with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

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Publication:AKIpress News Agency
Date:Mar 15, 2010
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