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Dark “Kawaii”: Incorporating Harsh Societal Ills into Japanese Cute Culture

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Source: Refinery29

In Japan, there is a phrase known as “kawaii,” meaning “cute” or “adorable,” often associated with a youthful, feminine look. In Japan, the word kawaii represents a prevalent cultural mindset that is fixated on clothing styles and human aesthetics embodying a “cute” appearance (much like the Western world’s fixation with “sexy”).

Harujuku, a district in Shibuya, Tokyo, considered to be one of Japan’s hottest commercial fashion centers, is often considered a hotspot for kawaii culture. It’s filled with people wearing bright, pastel colors and Lolita fashion (meaning “sweet” or “lovely”), and Victorian-period inspired clothing, often featuring bows, lace, and petticoats.

The term “kawaii” often brings to mind youthful innocence and gaiety, but lately, there seems to be an emergence of darker elements incorporated into this culture of “cute.”

Menhera Aesthetic

Kawaii styles, though frequently “cute” in nature, are becoming darker in look and meaning. “Menhera,” a Japanese term referring to those suffering from mental illness, is often incorporated into kawaii trends to represent the internal struggle of many adolescents.

Despite the dark nature of the meaning, though, this fashion style mixes aspects of sickness with childlike play and imagination. For example, bruises on a girl with a frilly pink dress.

The Menhera aesthetic can be found in dark kawaii designs ranging from Yume Kawaii (“dream kawaii,” which mixes in fantasy) to Kowakawaii (“scary kawaii,” which mixes in bloody and grotesque displays). Either way, the contrast between the cuteness of kawaii and the pain of the Menhera aesthetic is clear to the viewer — and that is precisely the point.

While the western world shies away from discussion about mental stability, Japan’s Menhera aesthetic presents it for all to see. However, whether that public display of pain sparks a conversation about mental health or encourages self-harm is debated.

Yami Kawaii

Emerging from Harajuku subculture is the more recent trend known as Yami Kawaii, translating to “cute-sick.” The incongruous term refers to elements of mental illness, such as depression and suicide, subjects that are considered taboo to speak about within Japanese culture.

Clothing styled in this fashion features many of the same features of Lolita fashion, bearing a child-like adorability while incorporating medical items, such as syringes or bloody characters that are often taken as disturbing. A prominent example of Yami Kawaii is the cartoon character, Menhera-chan.

Menhera-chan, a character created by illustrator, Ezaki Bisuko, is a young girl bearing charming pink ponytails and bandages on her wrist, indicating self-harm through cutting.

Source: Tumblr

In regards to this movement, there are some mixed reactions. Some may find Yami-Kawaii off-putting, seeing the trend as trivializing mental illness under a fashionable trend, while others find it healing.

In a culture that has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and problematic attitude toward mental health, the references to mental illness within Yami-Kawaii allow exposure within a conservative society.

Guro Lolita

Taking this “cute-sick” persona further comes the substyle of Guro Lolita fashion, translating to “grotesque Lolita.” This aesthetic still tries to present a small aspect of cuteness, but with an even greater aspect of horror.

So, black-and-white dresses with blood stains and arms with long bandages are common. Or a white nurse outfit splattered with blood can be seen as well. Additional accessories like bloody knives or broken toys are also reoccurring.

Due to its unsightly nature, Guro Lolita is not intended to be worn in public. Rather, the dresser reserves it for conventions, photo shoots, and horror-themed gatherings.

Guro Lolita is fixated on the idea of a broken doll, representing the wearer as cute from the beginning. Or rather, a faultless child whose internal battle eventually breaks her adorableness.

In that regard, this style of Kawaii is more of an allusion to mental illness as it takes the innocence of its prisoner. It is about a flawless young woman whose strength and beauty have succumbed to struggle and pain.

To many, Guro Lolita hints at two themes: First, that the fight with mental health overcomes even the most perfect possessor of it. Second, and more hopeful, that the individual is not destroyed by the wrestle — rather, the beauty once there will always remain.

Aggretsuko

Recently, in April 2018, Netflix premiered the original net animation series, Aggretsuko. The show centers on Retsuko, an anthropomorphic red panda, working as a female office worker in a modern day Japanese trading firm.

The protagonist bears a striking resemblance to a popular figure from Japanese cartoon figure, Hello Kitty, although with a major difference in personality.

Retsuko usually displays a calm and amiable persona to her friends and fellow employees, but when pushed to her emotional limits, she transforms into a more aggressive version of herself (hence the title Aggretsuko), screaming her woes out in pure death metal.

Source: Netflix

The show, though appearing innocent at first glance with its cute animal characters, relates to the bleaker nature of everyday life. It showcases Retsuko dealing with a misogynistic pig for a boss (literally), as well as common frustrations. These include obnoxious workmates, dating challenges, and dissatisfaction with her job.

Themes of power abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace are prevalent throughout the show, resonating with the viewers about their own “real-life” struggles within this fictional world.

Shows like Aggretsuko and trends like Yami-kawaii showcase the darker elements of human society under the guise of cuteness, allowing hard issues to become more palatable for wider audiences.

For those suffering from harassment or mental illness, dark “kawaii” culture might allow people to connect to others who suffer the same hardships they do, acknowledging their murkier emotions, and creating a community within mainstream society that does not acknowledge its societal failings.

By: Michele Kirichanskaya

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Meet Dr. Cheryl Robinson: The Entrepreneur-Turned-Model Helping Women Embrace The Pivot

Wondering how to pivot to a new career? Check out the story of Dr. Cheryl Robinson, the entrepreneur-turned-model helping women embrace the pivot.

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Dr. Cheryl Robinson

Dr. Cheryl Robinson is an international speaker, the founder of Ready 2 Roar, a leadership coach, and a regular contributor to ForbesWomen, where she writes about businesswomen who have successfully pivoted through their careers.

She is a clear example of a woman who does not give up when facing any inconvenience because, as she says

“When you get knocked down, you get yourself back up, dust off, and keep going.”

After imagining herself in various job positions when she was younger and trying out a few, she realized her interest in sports was even greater.

So, she went back to the East and worked in sports for 15 years, from the collegiate to the professional level.

That’s when she decided to open her own business. Moreover, Dr. Robinson decided to get a doctorate degree, making her a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership, to give her validity and credibility for the books she writes and the workshops she hosts.

After going through all of these different paths and accomplishing various goals, she set out to become a commercial print model.

 

Cheryl Robinson Modeling

“I set out to become a model, which is something I’ve always wanted to be, and that’s what I’m currently working on.”

 

So, now, at the age of 40, she signed with a modeling agency.

Dr. Cheryl has been writing for local newspapers and journals since the age of 14-15 and continued writing in college and even after graduating.

“Still, to this day, my goal is to be a New York Times best-selling author, and to do that, you have to write.”

 

After starting her own company, she committed to herself that 80% of her time would be spent on her writing and the other 20% on her business.

“Three months after I made that commitment to myself, I was attending an event, and I saw a woman speaking on a panel, saying she was a contributor at Forbes. I sat there thinking, ‘if she can do it, I can do it,’ so after the panel, I went right up to her and asked her how she got there.

 

Then, I spoke to her about my background and who I am. And what I didn’t know was that the former editor was in the room with her.

I introduced myself to the editor, who told me to send her my portfolio; three days later, she invited me for a mini-interview process, then a week later,

she called me and said ‘welcome aboard.’ ”

Based on Dr. Robinson’s experience, the best ways of changing and adapting to a new career are the relationships you make, so that it becomes easier for you to make any move in the future.

 

Dr. Cheryl Robinson holding a cup and smiling

“It’s all about the quality of the relationships you foster. Ask people in the company out for a coffee. Get to know your colleagues and what they’re working on; develop that relationship, so when you are ready to make a move, you have allies to help you in your pivot.”

 

There are many ways to pivot in a career, but there are also mistakes that should be avoided in doing so, and according to Dr. Cheryl, “not doing enough research is one of them.”

There are a lot of industries or companies that sound sexy to work for, but the reality may be the opposite or the learning curve might be more intense than you had thought.

Being ill-prepared can hinder your development and progress.

Take the time to research what you want to get into and meet the people who’ve done it before you. Learn from their mistakes before jumping with two feet in; know what you’re getting yourself into. Dr. Robinson believes that there are some ways to know when it’s time to pivot in a career.

“If you’re not growing or being challenged in your current role, or there is an idea that you just can’t stop thinking about, take the risk and step out of your comfort zone.”

 

Dr. Robinson always dreamt of becoming a commercial print model, and after interviewing over 500 individuals for her column, she realized

“it does not matter how old you are. you can always pivot.”

As we grow up, society tells us that we have to reach certain milestones by a certain age. However, it’s just not realistic sometimes.

So, you have to permit yourself to be okay with not hitting certain milestones as quickly as you imagined.

Dr. Robinson has always wanted to see her face on a billboard somewhere, and as she got older, she gained more self-confidence so, at the age of 40, she said “it is now or never.”

Through networking, she met a model agent with whom she talked, did her photos, and her potential got noticed to the point where she got signed with that modeling agency; and has now booked her first gig.

With all of what Dr. Robinson has already accomplished, she still has her head on plans for the near future. Her new leadership book is coming out at the end of this year.

In the new book, she wants readers to understand that pivoting or transitioning in a career doesn’t have to be scary.

“People might get fired, get laid off, move, and then be obligated to find something else, which can seem scary, but if they see it as a positive experience, it is not. Instead, it is an opportunity to develop a strategy to get to where they want to be.”

Want to connect with Dr. Cheryl? You can find her on IG and LinkedIn.

 

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Spotlight

Meet Scott Hughes: The Entrepreneur Who Built One of the Largest Online Book Communities

Are you a book junkie? Find out how Scott Hughes built OnlineBookClub, a free online community for book lovers with over 2 million members.

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Scott Hughes

Are you a book lover?

If you are, then you need to check out OnlineBookClub.org, a free online site for book lovers around the world.

The online site features book reviews, book & reading forums, and useful tools that enable you to store, track and list books you have read or want to read.

Scott was only 19 when he launched OnlineBookClub.

The idea of creating OnlineBookClub originated after Scott, a book fanatic, realized that there were too many restrictions for in-person book clubs such as tight deadlines on book reading, a limited selection of books, and little freedom to pick books to read. 

Scott wanted to leverage the power of online discussions and create a flexible space where people all over the world could easily find people to chat about any book at any time. That is how OnlineBookClub came to life. 

Building the online platform was a rewarding experience for Scott, but it was far from easy.

For 7 years, Scott ran the business and paid himself nothing from it. During those years, he worked odd jobs to pay his living expenses and put food on the table for his two kids. 

“I remember one month I had to go to the coinstar machine at the bank with my spare change on the 10th of month just so I could cover the rent, but I did it.”

The hardest part of creating the platform for Scott was finding time to run the business while juggling his day job and raising two kids. It was difficult for him to find a work-life balance but he made it work despite the hardships. 

At the end of 2014, Scott finally took a leap of faith, gave up his side jobs, and went full-time at OnlineBookClub. He knew that to make it work, he had to devote himself completely to the online site.

And his efforts paid off. 

The platform is thriving with over 2.7 million registered users as of November of 2021.

Scott’s team recently released an e-reading app meant to compete with Amazon Kindle, called OBC Reader, which is available on both the Google Play Store and the Apple Store.

The revenue of the platform primarily comes from paid online advertising and professional services to authors and publishers, such as editorial reviews and manuscript editing.

Scott is proud of the work he has accomplished so far, especially of the community he has built.

“OnlineBookClub has always been filled with kind people who have a strong sense of togetherness and community. It’s like a second family for us.” 

Scott’s journey has been full of ups and downs, but through it all, he is grateful for all the experiences-good ones and bad ones.  

When asked to advise young entrepreneurs just starting, he has the following to say:

“The journey never really ends. If you make a million dollars, then you might chase a billion. Even if you reach all your financial goals and lose interest in that side of things, your mind will create new different goals. So it’s never about reaching some destination. When you look back on it, in many ways the most challenging times are also seen most fondly.”

He also believes that entrepreneurs need to be driven by something other than money. 

“I’ve found in my anecdotal experience and just from watching the world around me that those who desperately chase money are the least likely to find it. In contrast, when you work hard on yourself and your real dreams, money chases you. Money–and even health and physical fitness–are only really ever a means, not an end in themselves. Without some kind of vision or passion to be the real end, the real goal, the real dream, it’s like driving a car with no gas.”

Scott’s story is a great reminder that anything can be achieved with perseverance, passion, and hard work.

So, if you are just starting, make sure to stay tuned for his upcoming book, “In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All,” which will be released soon.

You can connect with Scott on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter for more information about OnlineBookClub and get updates about his latest projects. 

 

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‘Halloween Kills’ Cast & Crew Explain the Slasher

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(from left) Karen (Judy Greer), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Allyson (Andi Matichak) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

Article by Riley Farrell

The cast and crew of Halloween Kills told Blendtw why the latest slasher’s gore is anything but gratuitous in a year like 2021. 

Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Malek Akkad, David Gordon Green and Jason Blum tell horror fans to expect carnage. After all, Halloween Kills must live up to its title.

Chainsaws buzzing and bats swinging, Halloween Kills is a current-day cathartic catastrophe – and no character is safe – according to producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions.

Halloween Kills is the 12th movie in Michael Myers’ macrocosm, with the 13th, and allegedly final, movie coming out in 2022. When seriously injured Laurie Strode thought she killed Michael Myers after 42 years of trailing him, his annual bloodbath recommences. Sick of living at the mercy of “pure evil,” the town’s vigilantes revolt against the boogieman. 

 

“Subtlety is not this film,” said director David Gordon Green, on fitting in as much bloodshed as possible in 105 minutes.

 

The cast filmed Halloween Kills two years ago and shelved it due to the pandemic, until now.

Picking up where Halloween (2018) left off, the film explores the aftermath of collective trauma, said Green. Given everything that’s ensued in the last two years, viewers do not have to live in Haddonfield to understand suffering, and inversely, resilience. 

 

“We’ve taken a slasher movie and it’s landed in a time of cultural relevance because of our public consciousness,” said Green. “Though [the movie is] grotesque, there are moments when we feel the humanity underneath the surface of this movie monster.”

 

Halloween Kills brought back two characters from the 1978 Halloween in Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), the two children who Laurie babysat during Michael’s initial attack. Hall and Richards did not require much persuasion to hop on the franchise, said Green.

 

Halloween kills

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green

The callbacks of all-grown-up characters, of course, evokes nostalgia. But the twist on the trope is that, instead of running from Michael, the kids now face him head-on, said Richards. Hall, who described Halloween Kills as a “thrill ride” and “freight train,” said the slasher hinges on human resilience.

 

“We summoned something deep in themselves and decided to fight back, we’re not just survivors but fighters,” said Hall.

 

Resilience as a motif snugly fits within the cultural zeitgeist, even earning a title as Forbes’ 2021 word of the year. Though coincidental, the visceral and violent images in Halloween Kills harken to audiences’ nihilistic experiences of the past 18-months. Producer Malek Akkad said the slasher film can paradoxically be pertinent yet escapist for viewers who’ve experienced the horror genre by simply reading the news.

 

“It’s tough for everybody right now and this movie’s just a fun release,” said Akkad. “There’s nothing more cathartic for people watching than to see a final girl like Laurie.”

 

For reference, the final girl trope, pioneered by the character of Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween, represents the heroine left standing at the end of a horror movie who is charged with defeating the antagonist. Film theorist Carol J. Clover coined the term in her 1992 book, ‘Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.’ The final girl has been observed in many films, including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Alien, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream.

 Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis said she was unaware of the meaning and dialogue surrounding the final girl until recently. She argued, even though the trope has immense cultural significance, the original idea of the final girl is uncomplicated.

 

“The term is just about the tenacity of women to survive because, the truth is, women have survived through a lot,” said Curtis.

 

No characters know survival better than the Strode women. Andi Matichak, who plays Laurie’s granddaughter, and Curtis agreed that their favorite behind-the-scenes moment centered on feminine resilience in spite of harsh conditions.

 

Halloween Kills

Michael Myers (aka The Shape) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

It was a frigid 4 a.m. shoot, and the three generations of Strode ladies were alone in a truck, coated in fake blood, with only each other and a camera rig for warmth, Matichak described. This moment was the last time Laurie, Karen and Allyson were on screen together.

 

“It was a powerful moment to lean on each other and feel the weight of the project,” Matichak said.

 

Cutting through the sweet moments is the slasher at the heart of the story, said Curtis on the “high octave, frenzied” plot of Halloween Kills. For audiences who’ve lived through the chaos of the past two years, Halloween Kills should match their fast pace of existence.

 

“The past is irrelevant, you’re so in the present moment,” said Curtis.

 

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