It all started out so innocently: one small, plush Totoro. I remember standing in the aisle of a crowded shop in Osaka, trying to justify the purchase. On the one hand, 1700 円 is a lot of money for a toy. On the other hand, Totoro! It’s a cultural experience! I can use it in show and tell! I can take him home and teach my friends about Japanese culture! The rationalizations went on and on, all the way to the cash register. Thus began my slow descent and so I find myself making a difficult confession: My name is Meagan and I am addicted to all (alright — most) things cute. Or, as is more commonly said in Japan, I love the kawaii!! ＼(^o^)／ *
Four years ago, when I first visited Japan, I did not see this coming. I walked around a shopping mall during my first visit and was confused by the stuffed animals hanging off of teenagers’ backpacks. Surely it’s fad. Perhaps it is something Japanese teens do ironically. When I moved to Japan I quickly learned that no, it is not ironic, nor is it limited to teenagers. It is perfectly acceptable for grown men and women to have full-sized teddy bears dangling from their cellphones, handbags, and pencil cases. Cute stuff is everywhere. Why own a plain folder/ phone case/ toilet brush when you could have one covered in kittens? Not only did I become accustomed to the phenomenon, but I surprised myself with how quickly I adopted it. Only three months after arriving in Japan I found myself in that shop in Osaka, contemplating my first Totoro purchase.
I did not realize how fully I had embraced the kawaii until I returned home to visit my family and friends and I noticed how“grown-up” they all are. My friends all carry handbags devoid of plush animals. Their pens and pencils are mostly solid colours, with nary an animated character in sight. None of my loved ones in Canada – not a single one – owns a cutting board shaped like a baby animal.
As I near the end of my JET career and my time in Japan, I have started to wonder what my re-adjustment to life at home will look like. I have a recurring daymare in which I am meeting new people and my phone rings. When I take it out of my purse I reveal several Beanie Babies dangling from my phone. Everyone around me recoils, exchanges a look, and telepathically agrees that they must never speak with me or my Beanie Babies again. Ever. ** Making new friends might be tough.
Is it possible that my fear is a bit exaggerated? Sure, I suppose it’s possible. But the reality is that once I return to Canada I will slowly start to assimilate with North American norms again. For better or worse, I have only a few months left to shamelessly bask in cute culture, and I am hoping to take advantage of it. Now please excuse me, an adult just showed me her pencil case. It is shaped like a chipmunk and it is wearing a bow tie. I have some squeeing to do.
*I do not understand Japanese emoji. I think they all look like bats.
**For the record, I do not actually own any Beanie Babies or phone charms… yet.