My husband kindly gave me a book on Kawaii culture for Christmas and I have since managed to finish it. So I thought today I would give a mini review. The book is called Kawaii! Japan's Culture of Cute and is by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson.
The book is a decent size and as you can probably tell from the cover, it is pretty colourful! The book has lots of photos, so it is fun to just pick up the book and have a quick flip through it. The photos are definitely a strong point of this book.
Rather than being a guide to all things kawaii, the book is actually a collection of interviews with various faces from the kawaii scene. If you are a fan of Japanese fashion or kawaii culture in general, then you should definitely recognise a few of the faces in this book. I can't say that I learnt very much from reading the book, although I did discover some new artists who I hadn't heard of before.
The interviews are typically a few pages long, with massive photos accompanying them. This is pretty short, although the questions do get straight to the point. Rather than teaching people about kawaii, I would say the interviews are more about giving an insight in to what the interviewees personally feel kawaii is about. It has a more personal feel to it, rather than teaching the reader. However, one thing that I did notice is that the interview questions got a bit repetitive after a while, which is a shame. I think the interviewer could have mixed things up a bit more. But the people being interviewed were very varied and the book talks to people in the toy industry, fashion models, shop staff, artists from both the past and present and many more. Hopefully there is enough here to keep any kawaii fan happy. I was a little disappointed that some people didn't get a full interview and I would have liked to have known more about them.
The photos really dominate the book, but they are absolutely fascinating to look at. A lot of the time, the photos take up the whole page. Rather than just taking store photos or using pictures of the interviewees, the book includes more personal photos too. For example, this photo is not of the Swimmer shop, but of one of the staff's bedrooms!
The book does delve a little bit in to the history of kawaii and how the culture grew, especially at the start of the book and with the first few interviews. It is interesting to see how kawaii evolved from it's early stages. Of course, there are also some very familiar faces too. Any book about Japan's kawaii culture should definitely feature characters such as Hello Kitty!
But despite being more of a collection of opinions instead of a guide, that is not to say that I didn't learn anything. For example, there is the suggestion that maybe there is such a thing as being too cute. After thinking about it for a while, I kind of get what the book means. I know there have been times where I have worn lolita where I have felt that an outfit has pushed the cuteness a little too far! I also found it interesting that with kawaii, sometimes imperfections are important and something being too perfect may not actually be kawaii. The book also gives an insight in to why so many Japanese mascots don't have mouths or have an indifferent facial expression.
So after reading this book, I think I would definitely recommend it. If you were introducing somebody to kawaii for the first time, then this may not be the first place to start, although that's not to say that they wouldn't learn anything from it. Despite reading similar books, there is enough fresh material here to keep me interested. Although I found the interviews interesting, it was the pictures that initially caught my eye. The book is definitely eye catching and is good for a quick flick through or to properly sit down and read. I really enjoyed this book and after reading it from cover to cover, I have kept going back to have another flick through.
The book is published by Prestel and I have found it available from many large online retailers.