Stepping foot in a bustling city like Tokyo is enough to make even the most experienced traveler’s head spin. With so much to experience, it’s difficult to know which hot spots to hit first. My recommendation is to immerse yourself in Japan’s renowned kawaii culture by visiting an animal cafe.
Tokyo offers a plethora of animal cafe experiences, such as cat or dog cafes. Naturally, Japan’s kawaii (meaning “cute”) culture is the ideal environment to cultivate a new wave of animal cafes: the Owl Cafe.
I mean, look at them. Their huge eyes embody Japan’s culture of cuteness!
Typically, a guest will pay for a half hour experience or a full hour experience at an owl cafe. You are invited to enjoy beverages prior to meeting the owls, and taking lots of photos is encouraged (with the flash turned off, of course!). The owls are kept in a separate room from the sitting area for sanitary purposes, and there is an attendant inside the room with you at all times.
Kawaii culture isn’t limited to the animal cafes available in Tokyo, or even Harajuku, the district that gave us Lolita girls and Tokyo teen fashion.
Historically, the culture has emerged as an act of rebellion when Japanese schoolgirls adopted a “cute” style of handwriting. It has since evolved to become an obsession for locals and worldwide kawaii culture enthusiasts alike, resulting in a multi-billion dollar industry. Companies have begun to appeal to younger generations by creating kawaii products, with items ranging from household items to school supplies. Some consumers have received criticism for upholding materialistic values as a result of the subculture, and were thought to reject traditional Japanese society.
There is no doubt that the driving force behind maintaining kawaii culture are young women and girls. Many will change their way of dress to fit the cute standard, and go to lengths such as double eyelid surgery to emulate a wide eye shape.
Young women are also using the pop culture trend to express independence in the kawaii capital of the world. Women use the style of dress and attitude as a means of expressing their freedom from married life, which can become oppressive and boring.
Men have also caught on to the kawaii trend, following their female counterparts. While they are not necessarily donning frilly lace and bows, they are free to experiment with more feminine styles of dress and are less pressured to conform to harmful standards of masculinity.
While folks in the past (and today) have rejected kawaii culture, as a traveler in Japan it is imperative that you embrace it as it is a statement of individuality in many ways for many people.
What’s your favourite part of kawaii culture? Animal cafes? Food? Fashion? Let me know in the comments below!