The standard translation of this word is “cute”, yet it is empowered with more than being just a description of something that is considered to be “attractive in a pretty and attractive way.” Of course, that is the general meaning when used, for often the object of this description is exactly so. But here in Japan, and now increasingly throughout the world, especially among younger generations, it also represents a cultural trend. Think of Harajuku and Takeshita-dori; think of kosupurei, the dressing up in costumes to show one’s attraction to certain character or themes. Think of fashionable shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, and other establishments wherever they are found that are especially deemed to be definitely worth visiting.
And who are the arbiters of these cultural proclamations that have such an immense influence on the general public to the extent that it quickly seeks out establishments designated as being “cute”? Quite simply they are the young women of Japan who wield this word as the ultimate form of approval or disapproval (as in 可愛くない – not cute). Be it fashion, food, shops or whatever, how young Japanese women describe these often determines the popularity or lack thereof of such establishment.
A good example is the popularity of Shibuya in recent years where so many shops have been described as “cute”, thus enticing not only young people from all areas of the nation to visit, but foreigners as well. Shibuya has become synonymous with Japan’s youth culture and establishments seeking such approbation endeavor by themselves to being “cute” in their websites and advertisements. It works. Just think about what you see on TV. Many programs, especially those about locations and shops in them frequently use “cute” in their descriptions.
Kawaii is a buzz word that today can have a direct effect on the success of establishments that are reliant upon the increase and steady custom of visitors. Initially, as an old foreigner, I was cynical of how this word has been used in recent years, but my thinking has changed. As the world seems to be descending into chaos and troubles that impact the daily lives of people, especially in terms of violence and uncivil behavior, Japan is to me an oasis of peace and harmony in a world increasingly going mad. Foreign news generally seems to focus on tragedies and division, chaotic events. True, Japan has its share of troubles, but not to the extent as the rest of the world. Instead there are more stories and programs about “cute” topics. While it may appear to some as turning a blind eye to world events, these days I find such content to be a pleasant change and preferable. But then again, I am now at an age where rather than looking for adventure and challenges as I did in my youth, I prefer a quieter and simpler lifestyle and life.
 a usage or practice common to many or to a particular place or class or habitual with an individual