Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Cuteness Needed: The New Language/Communication Device In A Global Society

Dr Mio Bryce.

As exemplified by the recent popularity of manga (Japanese cartoons, especially in animation form), the well-known Japanese consumption of ‘kawaii’ (pretty/cute) culture has not only intensified inside Japan, but has also permeated global society, particularly through youth culture. This paper examines ‘cuteness’ as an effective, powerful communication device in today’s media cultures, and situates it in relation to struggles of individuality with the pressure for social conformity and surveillance, as well as in the context of the fading of the immediacy of personal contact and performativity of self-presentation.

The Japanese obsession with cuteness has been condemned as a subculture peculiar to children and women, although the extent of the quotidian reach of its signifying use extends throughout Japanese society to include even Governmental documents and signs. It manifests itself as an inquisitive and complex site for the integration of social, economic, and aesthetic dimensions and it registers (inter)personal as well as psychological demands. Numerous studies of the discursive significance of cuteness have appeared, and they have included various cultural expressions for its examination such as manga, consumerism, technology, life styles and personal relationships, as well as gender and sexuality. However, most scholarly accounts have not extended the scope for the cultural purview of cuteness beyond its Japaneseness, and so have neglected examination of its increasing worldwide popularity in a global context. Why has this uniquely Japanese obsession with cuteness been widely accepted and reproduced outside Japan? In order to answer this, this paper will focus on the social dimensions of cuteness that are invested with particular significance by people with different cultural backgrounds. It will also examine why these qualities are sought out and how they are integrated into local cultures as part of peoples' construction and negotiation of their identities. This discussion will also broach the potentialities of the real and virtual spaces comprising 'global culture' for human relationships.


Dr Mio Bryce  (Australia)
Asian Languages Division of Humanities
Macquarie University

Lecturer in Asian Languages at Macquarie University, teaching Japanese language and literature and “Japan’s Contemporary Culture through Manga”. PhD in Japanese classical literature, The Tale of Genji, from the University of Sydney.

  • ‘Kawaii’ (pretty/cute) culture
  • Manga
  • Communication
  • Local and global societies
  • Performativity

(Virtual Presentation, English)