Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Functional Traveller: Why so kawaii?

November 18, 2015 by Sera Down, contributing writer

As I traipse through the 24-hour grocer on a late-night hunger-fuelled purchase-capade, I jaunt past the refrigeration cabinets stocked with cured meats. Then I double back.

Sandwiched between Vienna sausage and Italian ham is a package of tiny Vienna sausages shaped like octopus, complete with edible smiley faces. Despite their innocent grins compelling me to adopt them, I take a step back to contemplate my bizarre attraction to a product I honestly have a slight distaste for.

Why are products so attractive based solely on the merit of cuteness?

As someone who regularly shops at Victoria’s Secret, I acknowledge that sex sells. It’s the driving force behind most Western advertising, and for a good reason. As human beings we are addicted to comparing ourselves to others, and we live vicariously through social media. Any semblance of similarity we can simulate from our digital idols gives us a rush of validation.

The Functional Traveller is an ongoing column in Nexus (photo by Sera Down/Nexus).

The Functional Traveller is an ongoing column in Nexus (photo by Sera Down/Nexus).

Of course, sex sells in Japan. The entirety of Akihabara (also known as Electric Town) is draped in massive billboards, with scantily clad anime girls advertising anything from pachinko (Japanese slots) to car insurance. Young women and men in costume flank the sidewalk, handing out fliers for maid cafes and host clubs. Most wait quietly until they catch the eye of a passerby, who then meekly accepts their brochure for fear of being rude. It’s remarkably effective, as they need not say anything at all to attract potential consumers.

There is a unique dichotomy to Japanese marketing, however. With every provocative image is a component of innocence: girls appear vulnerable, their body language shy. This extends far beyond advertising with women, as instead of using sterile emblems to symbolize national districts, adorable mascots are the centrepiece.

As a comparatively traditional culture, Japanese culture still promotes the passiveness of femininity and the suppression of overt sexuality.

Western sexuality is often considered too forward and aggressive, so a more subversive form of sex appeal has emerged: cuteness.

Consumers are attracted to these passive undertones, and the market perpetuates; even foreigners cannot resist the plethora of adorable merchandise Japan has to offer.

I left the grocer that day lighter in pocket and heavier in thought. While my purchase didn’t include grinning Vienna sausage, I returned home to a desk full of stuffed animals vigilantly expressing their constant approval.

In the end, we’re all suckers for plush.

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