About the Meaning of “Kawaii”
35 , 20160301 , 東京女子大学言語文化研究会
It is thought that the Japanese adjective kawaii is a very popular word among young women in Japan. However, its clear definition remains to be seen. The purpose of this study is a discussion about what kawaii represents these days. Kawaii is related to the user’s values, and analyzing this adjective can reveal evidence that helps us to know changes in people’s values, surroundings, and culture.
In the second section of this review, I set three points of view based on previous studies: about the exterior and the interior of an object, about the function to reduce the friction in conversations, and about an expression of Japanese culture. In the third section, I explain my research which used the following approach. I analyzed contextual search results in which kawaii is used in the Shonagon corpus. These contents included: a sample of young women’s conversations, search results of pictures about kawaii for people in other countries, and contents of Japan Expo―a Japanese culture expo in France. In the fourth section, I collated data of the research, and in the fifth section, examined the results.
The results of my analysis clearly shows that kawaii has more uses than before. In addition to the function of conveying the sense of lovely, kawaii is used: 1) to express adoration of what the user is pleased with, 2) to provide topics and give responses in conversation, and 3) to describe Japanese culture, especially, colorful and ostentacious fashion and goods. The word kawaii was used in ancient times by those who were in the higher social position rather than those of lower social standing. However, today, it has come to be a word which everyone uses easily regardless of age or gender, and in foreign countries, it is recognized as a word which expresses a characteristic part of Japanese popular culture. The result of this study hopefully will give an insight into the change in meaning and usage of kawaii in the future.