I don’t want to be cute (in Japan)

Oh Japan, why are you so kawaii?

Japan is the Mecca of cute-ness. Polka dots, pink, ruffles, lace not just in clothing, but in bags, phone cases, toothbrushes, stationary, and basically everything else. When I first came to Japan I thought it was adorable… but now I find it overwhelming (and smothering).

What changed?


I changed.

When I first came to Japan, I came as a visitor. It was a fun, easy place to live. And the fact that kawaii-ness wasn’t just for kids, that it it well into the teenage and adult years blew my mind. I bought a couple ruffle skirts and uber-frilly dresses and went through a phase where I tried to do my makeup as kawaii as possible.

I was a teenager who probably believed if I dressed and acted the part, I could “become Japanese” (which in-itself is kind of problematic for everyone involved, but that’s a whole other blog post).

I don’t know when I stopped liking kawaii things.

Recently, I got an offhand remark from someone along the lines of “if you dressed nicer, you would be really cute like a Japanese girl.” and I was just kind of like “And I would want to do that because…?”

Of course I want to assimilate into Japanese culture. I enjoy (most aspects of) living here, the food, the personal safety, the public transportation, the friendly little old ladies who love to chat about the weather. Living in Japan with my husband is wonderful.

There is not a single part of me that wants to grow up to become grumpy old lady who always complains “This isn’t how we do it in America!” when problems arise. I see people like that all the time, especially on Japan-related chat-boards and it terrifies me.

But I don’t want to give up myself and my own values in order to assimilate.

More specifically, I really just don’t want to be kawaii. And I get that this is the epitome of First World Problems but the word “cute” makes me cringe.

Some people like the compliment “cute.” Other’s don’t. I’m in the latter camp.

Calling me cute feels patronizing. I’m not a child.

I pay taxes and vote and run my own business and cook my own meals and exercise regularly without anyone telling me to. I’m a grown woman and I every time someone calls me cute (or tells me I should try to act/dress more cute) it feels like they’re looking down on me and aren’t taking me seriously.

This didn’t bother me when I first came to Japan because I didn’t really expect anyone to take me seriously in the first place. I was a teenager who barely spoke the language and was following her boyfriend around the world. Heck, I didn’t take myself seriously (and that got rid of a lot of the pressure to be successful).

The whole “cute” thing bothers me now because my looks are always being called into question in professional settings. I wrote about it more in this post I wrote: 6 Things I Don’t Understand about Working in Japan

Basically, I said:

Japan is a very visual society. I mean, pretty much every society is visual. Beauty is rewarded and looking outside the “norm” usually has negative effects.

I run into the “visual” problem when it comes to meeting new people. I have quite a few odd jobs – reporting for a Japanese TV show, voice acting, narration, doing one-on-one lessons for new bloggers, freelance writing, drawing comics freelance, doing script-checking for English-teaching online courses. Doing different things every day is the easiest way to ensure I never get bored (and never stop learning).

In any case, most of the time when I meet someone new, they will comment on my looks. “You’re so cute!” they will say. Or “You look so beautiful.”

I’m not trying to fish for compliments here – I find it massively uncomfortable when I’ve just given a 10 min presentation on how to improve their SEO rank for their companies’ blog and the first question or comment is “You’re very cute.” Perhaps this is my weird American side going, but I think it’s rather rude to tell a woman in a business suit, who you’re trying to hire to help with your website, that she’s cute. Or if you’re just introduced to the person hired to do narration for your textbook, and the first words out of your mouth are “You are very pretty” (and the person who introduces you says “Yes, she really is”).

That’s weird.

Puppies are cute. Babies are cute. A teenage girl in lolita are cute. A woman in a power-suit isn’t cute. Especially if you are trying to hire said woman on a freelance basis to do work for your company.

You wouldn’t believe how many red flags pop up when the first words out of someone’s mouth (aside from basic introductions) are “You are beautiful.” It makes me feel like someone is going to slip something in my drink and I’m going to wake up somewhere I really don’t want to be. It also makes me unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) head for the door.

In chats with other friends, I’ve realized I’m not alone in this experience. People’s looks are constantly being commented on with the most common compliment being “cute.”

This is weirdly topical because around the time I published this post, a report came out that over one third of working women in Japan have been sexually harassed (25% of those cases from an immediate supervisor). And the most common complaint type was inappropriate “comments about age, appearance, or other external characteristics.”

cute construction zone sign Japan animals Japanese


What about you?

Do you enjoy being called cute (a compliment is a compliment)? Or does it bother you like it does me (I’m not a child)?


About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

58 Comments on I don’t want to be cute (in Japan)

  1. Hi Grace,

    I do understand after a business presentation you want people to focus their attention on content and not on externals.

    I suggest the first or last sentence of your presentation should be: My husband calls me cute but you all can call me smart/clever.

    You need in some fun way to address the issue. Ask the question Hands up all who think I am cute. Okay great now we have that out the way. Lets see if you think I am cute and clever. After this presentation you will know I am cute and clever.

    I am so amazed how beautiful women actually are. Sometimes men are overcome by a women’s beauty they don’t know how to acknowledge it in an appropriate way. Help us by getting the issue out the way before your presentation and the comments will hopefully change.

    Sometimes men need a little training.

  2. My husband can call me cute but if anyone else calls me that I will wonder, angrily, what must be their agenda…

  3. WhatsAngiedoing // 10 March, 2016 at 3:40 am //

    I had a simular situation happen once for me when I went to a job interview. Where the interviewer at the end “complimented” me on my apparence. I remember my face started burn up, like a cartoon flush of red over coming my face to contain my anger. As I left in a furry of annoyance, calling my husband with all my rage spewing out my mouth. I never had another experience like that again. But it was like a slap in the face.

    I don’t need to be complimented on my apparence to feel good about my work skills or ethic. Its really misogynistic and I would hope as a society we could be pass this.

    I do not have a problem at all with my husband occasionally calling an action I do “cute”. But the word cute is something I associate with youth and children and tiny little plastic toys.

    So I understand your frustration.

  4. I think it depends on the situation?
    Most of the time I hate it. Mainly, it’s because I’m quite short and petite and most of my male friends like patting me on the head and saying “aaw, you’re so cute” whilst dismissing my argument or whatever it was I was saying (most of the time when I made a mistake when speaking in English).
    It feels demeaning and it makes you feel small. But in the end, I know they don’t really mean to make me feel like that, they’re just being friendly.
    But it still makes me cringe a little. The only person I like calling me cute is my boyfriend. And that’s because he doesn’t say it like others do.

  5. Frederick // 5 March, 2016 at 10:31 am //

    I still tell my wife that she is cute, from time to time. One, I still think so after years of marriage. Two, It is a relationship booster. So if the call “you are cute, honey” Comes from your husband/boyfriend/significant other, please accept it.

    Treasure every moment of it. :)

  6. Well my channel is called cutejpanvids so obviously I am addicted to the cute culture ! I love cute things and tried to act like an adult and got pretty bored of it. This said I think commenting on people’s look is really rude especially at work it could just be sexual harrassment to me. It is like people who say you have long legs. Like dont look my legs dude ( I am very chubby now so I get less of that and very happy about it lol)

  7. Growing up I used to associate being called cute as something false. People that say that tend to be people who adored pets. Don’t you think cuteness is a fashion style? The longer you stay stuck to fashion won’t it keep you not progressing? I prefer using cuteness as a one liner or as a concept to visual designing. It’s more relevant and compatible

  8. Hey Grace,

    Some people think I’m petite and cute. Thats ok when I was a baby girl to a thirty year old.woman, But now, I like people to see me, as an matured smart middleage woman whose still likes to have fun and not take herself seriously. Of course, I still get told to dress nicely when I am going to the store. I mean whats wrong wearing jeans and a clean t shirt. It is a standing joke in my family, that my children and husband are taller than me, and sometimes people mistaken me for a underage teenager when I go into a wine shop to order wine and, beer. It is annoying and dramatic when they refused to serve me and I have my passbook or driving license on me to prove that I actually over 40.

    But its really not on for me, when they keep on saying I’m cute, that they want to pinch my cheeks. lol You might have save that compliment for my small schauser dog, when he wants to bite their ankles.

  9. I used to cringe at the word “cute,” but now I don’t – and I also don’t find it out of the question to be clever and cute (not that you’re saying they are mutually exclusive). I want to be lots of things, and I don’t mind cuteness. If anything I find it a little annoying when others hate on harmless cute things, like… cell phone cases or something. If a 40 year old woman wants a cell phone case that looks like a kitten, who gives a damn?

  10. I am a 29 year old 5ft petite woman who is constantly mistaken for 18. I have always been treated younger by everyone I have met including people who are younger than me. I am always called cute. I don’t see this is a bad thing it gives me the motivation to surprise people with who I am underneath.
    Once I worked at a caravan site, cleaning the caravans.
    The management upon hiring me had a running bet on how long I would last. It was heavy work and I “looked like a doll, who wouldn’t want to chip her nails.”
    I worked really hard, was one of there best cleaners and I did plenty of heavy lifting. I also lasted the whole summer and even took on extra roles.
    Of course I’d rather people didn’t base me off of my looks, but you work with what you have and just take comments with a pinch of salt.

  11. I have mixed feelings about the cute. First of all I don’t dress very cute day to day. I try to be stylish but most days I’m just being practical (these days read warm). I like having cute things like notebooks and pencils and stuff, but I don’t think I should dress like a child. I do get called cute A LOT. (Mostly, by Japanese girls who are younger than I am.) I always tell them “no, I’m not”, but I am slightly flattered because to be honest whilst in America no one was lining up around the block to call me cute.

  12. I have a face made for radio.

    It’s a fact, I now work on radio. I have a great voice, just a tinge on the low side and I’ve been training to use it well. In the industry you often meet people who have an “idea” of you and then they meet you. The results vary from; face drop, confusion, stunned paralysis and well trained indifference. The latter mostly from other people in radio.
    My relationships have always been with people who had to get to know me first.
    It’s not fair but it’s life.

    I find it hard when people call me cute, or pretty. I’m occasionally amused when some people call me handsome. I laugh, I smile, I’m friendly but I’m not cute or pretty, I’ll own Handsome… I think.

    Part of me is irked when someone who is classically pretty and cute is offended by it. I can understand the irritation but part of me occasionally wonders what it would be like to have someone say it when it was true.

    You deserve to be called smart and professional and responsible and insightful and intelligent and witty and coy and introspective and great. You deserve to be called all these things before pretty and cute. But you are pretty and you are cute.

    By all means keep railing against the terms being used at inappropriate times and inappropriate situations but please, when you get a quiet moment when you’re alone, take some joy in the fact it’s true and for the smallest moment… enjoy it.

  13. Even though I am tall and used to model professionally, one of the most common adjectives used to describe me is cute. I don’t think it has too much to do with my overall appearance, I think it is my overall demeanor. I always have acted goofy and silly at times, plus I have a big sense of humor. So overall I think when people call me cute, it isn’t just describing my appearance it is describing me as a whole…and I don’t mind it. I like to be cute. With all the adjectivs people have used to describe me, I like cute the best. But that is just me.

  14. Anonymous // 2 March, 2016 at 6:07 am //

    Saying your top [or any other clothing item] is cute in a professional setting sounds ok enough, though it might indicate you didn’t choose the right clothes .. but saying this about your appearance as a whole… seems weird. especially when it comes from the opposite gender.

  15. To be honest, I really enjoy being called cute. This may have to do with the fact that I always have looked older than I actually am. At 15 I’ve been estimated to be in my early twenties by someone. Right now, at 21, I’m usually estimated to be at least in my mid-twenties. This goes both for my looks and my general demeanor, I just, for some weird reason, seem to have a “mature” aura around me.
    But I agree that it all depends on context. If it’s someone I know and have been talking to for a while – sure. Friends, acquaintances, family – all fair game. And old lady on the train or something is fine, too. In a professional setting or soming from strangers however, this is a no-go. I’m a University student, so I don’t particularly find myself in a lot of professional settings, except maybe for talking to my professors and my part-time job. And it would definitely not be appropriate in those situations.
    I can’t really add anything to the cultural aspect, since I was born in the Ukraine and have been living in Germany since childhood, but “cute” is not something that’s said very easily around here to be honest (except to small children or animals, rarely to adults).

  16. My little sister was 5/6 when we lived in Japan, of course she was called cute aaaall the time and absolutely loved it.

    I cringe at the word cute too though, perhaps partly because people tend to think I am years younger than I really am so I have to spend so much time trying to be respected as an adult, there are certain words like cute that automatically bring my guard up. I have a lot of friends will use it though and it would never occur to them to think that what they are saying could be anything but a compliment. So now I’m trying to remember that the word doesn’t necessarily carry the same associations to other people as it does to me before I get annoyed at them! I’m sill not a fan of it though.

  17. Idunaya // 1 March, 2016 at 7:55 pm //

    For me it’s all in the delivery and context.
    When I was younger I was often called cute or sweet or adorable but with the age of 16 I decided that I don’t want that. I didn’t want to be cute anymore, I wanted to be tough, badass, cool…you know, something like that. :D I changed my attitude, my looks and basically became a sassy, sarcastic gothic chick with resting bitchface….:D :D :D
    Nah,…today I enjoy acting cute and I love cute things but it is a more adult kind of cute. In front of my friends and my husband I’m all cute and sweet but still sassy. Because somehow that’s just how I am. In the outside world I still show my tough side…I like both of my sides and for me there is always a time to be serious and a time to be cute. If friends and family call me cute I don’t mind at all. If strangers call me that…meh..it’s all about how they say it and who is saying it. A sweet old lady on the bus? I take it. A person I talked to before…I take it. Some creep approaching me on the subway,….no. But for a business setting it’s a total red flag for me. If I’d do a business presentation and the boss would call me cute…I don’t know if I could just smile and say nothing…probably I would say something sarcastic even though I know it’s not a good idea.

  18. You’re right, saying “cute” in business is a no go. But I think the same goes for any other comment on the appearance. Doing business and going on blind dates should be kept separate. If complimented like that, I will assume you are trying to flatter me so i won’t notice your attempts to screw me over big time.
    But outside of business I feel flattered if Japanese people call me cute. Why? 2 reasons. 1) it seems like the attribute cute is not usually tagged on white women, so they are saying I’m above average. 2) Cute in Japan is a concept that does apply to adults too (you said so yourself). Even male adults (like idols) are commonly considered cute (I guess many adult white men would cringe if called cute!^^). So to the Japanese cute has a different meaning, even so it uses the same word.
    “Sexy” also seems to have a different meaning coming from Japanese. I heard it often used in a context where I assume it rather meant “showing (too much) skin”. I would not enjoy being called that. (I am just guessing here, so if anybody can give further information, that’d be interesting)
    Actually, I don’t enjoy being called sexy anyway, pretty much for the same reason you don’t like cute. Even if meant as a compliment, to me it means “I don’t care about your brains or character, as long as you have boobs and are a potential mating partner”. Too me it is a compliment coming from the lower half of a man’s body, I don’t want to be reduced to that. I personally think cute is tons better.

  19. all my life i was cute. never pretty, never smart – always cute. i do understand you Grace :\

  20. I feel this may have a lot to do with being from America. From how I grew up, even though I am obsessed with the culture, love the food, and want to learn everything I can about the history and literature, I would never want to be Japan’s standard of cute. When I sit and think about the amount of things I could get done if I took the time to do my make up like some people I know, I cringe. When I think about the price you have to pay for some of the clothes that I personally think belong on a barbie doll, and not a human, I cry at the thought of how EVEN MORE poor I would be if I bought them. In America cute is a standard for children, lap dogs, or floods of kittens. It’s what you tell your niece she looks like after she put in her own pigtails. It’s DEFINITELY not what you want to hear from your boss about why they hired you.

  21. After reading your post, I want to apologize if you are offended from a comment that I made on your YouTube video. I commented that “both of you are cute and sweet”…. =_=III
    I do meant it as a compliment :) Anyway, thanks to your post, I’ll be more careful when using the word “cute”. :)

  22. I’ve been told if you were to dress up and wear make up you would be pretty or cute. My style is basic. I like t-shirts and jeans. I don’t feel comfortable in dresses or skirts. I hate getting compliments when I do because I can never believe them. I barely believe my husband when he tells me. I’ve tried to get out of my comfort zone but I don’t like how it feels. It feels like I’m changing to please everyone else. Anyway I’d much rather be complimented on something I’ve done and not my appearance.

  23. At age 56, and female, if someone calls me cute, I enjoy it, as it is hard to be older and cute.

  24. We-ell. Unluckily for me, people’s first words about your appearance are usually negative ones. It’s not uncommon for strangers to suggest that you lose some weight, or that you don’t look good with your partner. It’s sort of brutal. I’d take the “cute” compliment, but then again, I understand how that undermines your powers and abilities.
    SO I totally get it!

    • Oops, I meant – it’s common for these things to happen in India.

    • My husband’s family often tells him he’s getting thin or looking weak and that his skin is “getting black”. So… And that’s considered a caring comment, over here.
      In all actuality I have to undo the damage they cause, by telling him that he’s actually healthy looking and no, his skin is just fine.

  25. There are people who are adult and there are people who are still young adults. I think that you and Ryosuke are so fun and silly at times that people probably think you fall into the young adult category still. I have very much enjoyed your blog, comics, and videos on YouTube. We get a slice into your life from them, but they are not your full and rich life. Perhaps that is what people don’t get and why they would call you cute. Also hiding behind the internet screen makes people feel like they can say more than perhaps they would in person. I had to giggle when you said something about people saying you are beautiful and not trusting them. I giggled because Ryosuke says that ALL the time on your videos. I am in my 40s now and my friend’s parents still think of me as being a young 20 something. I am not cute or beautiful, except to my husband. I have always been the typical Tomboy and I am not frilly or girly, but every so often I surprise myself by liking something cutesy. I strive to be kind and loving in life and those are qualities I hope I am known for. They will never be for being cute or a beauty. My worth doesn’t come from the clothing I wear or any compliments I receive. Thanks so much for sharing your life and thoughts with us. I enjoy them the most over other Jbloggers.

  26. Anonymous // 1 March, 2016 at 3:22 pm //

    I hope you feel better after venting, but you know there are things you can’t change and just have to get used to. I don’t like in Japan, but I am an American expat in the UK, and I know where you’re coming from. Certain aspects of a culture can grate. Let it wash over you. x

  27. I feel this. There is so much pressure when it come to being cute, or pretty, or “done up.” Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE makeup. I have way too much makeup, and I spend way too much time doing my makeup. But I do it because I like it, not because I want to impress anyone else.

    There is also a major difference in our minds when it comes to “cute” and “pretty.” When my fiancé calls me “cute”, my gut reaction is to kick him. I’m 26. I’m not cute. (Though I am 26 and look 12, so I kinda just have to deal with it.)

    When it becomes an expectation, there is a problem. Dressing professional for a professional job? Sure. But having to be cute or whatever? Not so much.

  28. I don’t really care much for other people’s opinions, whether positive or negative. Call me good-looking, ugly, smart, stupid – it’s all just trivial.

  29. I kinda like to whole “kawaii-ness” of Japan but then again, maybe it’s because I don’t live there. I don’t know if I’d feel the same way if I was overflooded with that like you were.

  30. This really has me wondering and thinking back to your post about people saying your husband is attractive with the caveat “for a Japanese guy” and hoping i didn’t say that you were both cute people. I hope i correctly said you are both attractive people.
    That being said, i use cute all the time, but in a very diminutive way. My cat is cute, my daughters clothes can be cute because they fit a 2 year old, even some of my fish are cute. I struggle to call other cute though. I feel like there are more worthy things to comment on generally than appearance and typically “cute” falls under the observational category pretty much all the time, so i really understand your beef with it here.
    Keep on being you, Grace, obviously with your bevy of successful books and 1,000s of followers you are doing just fine without having to be “cute.”

  31. I really agree with this and honestly from my heart felt the same. I tried cute some years ago and well whatever, I’m totally fine not being cute. I want to be called intelligent. Beautiful maybe. Not cute. And especially not in a business meeting. High five Grace. You do you.

  32. I can see your point Grace. Being called cute by a boyfriend or husband is one thing, or even by friends is cool but if a person you don’t know or if you work for them call’s you that and it makes you wonder. If they say what I’m wearing is cute but still takes me seriously than that’s okay but half the time that’s not the case sadly XC

  33. I try for Kawaii in everyday life. I truly enjoy the hair bows, the kawaii jewelry and animals. It is fun for me but at this period in my life I still feel younger then my real age(24) so I act younger. Sure I don’t wear the style everyday but on the days that I do people are shocked to see me because day to day is boring work clothes and comfy clothes when I dress in my super kawaii I take on a new side to myself and become different.

  34. One more thought, I also think we have to remember English “cute” and Japanese “kawaii” don’t mean the same thing.
    There is a whole different world of men and women and the ways both sexes are viewed and the expectations about them, the ways communication happens between them…it’s totally different. A lot of it would made a Western feminist want to tear their hair out. But we miss a lot looking at it with our Western culture glasses on.
    If Japanese people in a professional setting call you kawaii, I think it’s *probably not* with the intention of demeaning you as a person, more likely the opposite is intended.

    • Counterpoint:

      News reports indicate that Japanese women are deeply concerned about workplace discrimination and Japan suffers one of the widest income gap between the sexes in the developed world. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/01/AR2007030101654.html

      Similarly, gender discrimination at work has become a rising concern among Japanese politicians. http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-japan-women-politics-20141104-story.html

      • It’s all true, and it’s what I was suggesting by saying its a different world. In crude words, Japan has a ways to go in this area (especially in daily life outside politics and academia).

        • I understand. My intent was to caution that Japanese people’s “uniqueness” does not immunize them from criticism, even from outsiders (as much as some Japanese would like to claim otherwise).

          Social issues like gender bias in the workplace (of which calling a professional presenter “kawaii” is an indicative, if somewhat innocent, example) have real-world consequences, even in Japan. That provides a common ground on which foreigners and Japanese can have constructive discussion.

          In the U.S., some of our most prescient social criticism has come from other nationals visiting our country (Alexis de Tocqueville for example). It’s clearly important to keep cultural differences in mind, but I think we (as foreigners interested and living in Japan) would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge and try to counter issues such as bias.

  35. Cute. UGH. Yeah, well, I have more of an Amazonian physique, so cute never, ever worked for me. I look ridiculous in ruffles.

    But I’ve always been okay with that because, yes, while cute is fine for puppies and little girl dresses, “cute” definitely comes out as condescending and demeaning when used in colleges and in the workplace. “Cute” is another way of not taking a woman seriously, of sticking her in a box based solely on her appearance, and of dismissing her as of minimal consequence. Like, “Oh, aren’t you just such a cute little thing, run along and play while the grownups talk, okay now?”

    And while some men might mean it as a compliment, it’s really not. It’s infantilizing.

    So, yeah. Enough with the cute.

  36. I am studying Asian studies and Japanese as my Degree, and this is something that often comes up in discussions. However I want to take this moment to discuss the Intelligence VS Kawaii debate by using the case study of one of my Tutors. The Leading Tutor in our Japanese Department is A Japanese woman, and she is a powerful lady adept to negotiating and bringing someone down a few pegs when need be, This is not the kind of person you would associate with the word Kawaii, to be truthful l the first time I met her I was scared. She radiated the feeling of “you better not mess around, and if you do you will answer to me” and this is how I thought of her until I went to her office for the first time. My heart was pounding, had I done something wrong? Were my thoughts until she opened the door to her office. It was so Kawaii. she had taken her shoes off at the door and put on Hello kitty Slippers, there were cute charms on her bag and coat and other such things around the room she had a bag of lollipops on her desk offered me one and began eating one herself. (I wasn’t in trouble she just wanted to make sure I was getting on Okay with Kanji due to my dyslexia) But all I could think was how could this stereotypical powerful intelligent women, also be so cute. I think maybe you can be both you just have to be firm with the way you want to be perceived.

  37. It’s interesting because I take a bit of a different approach. As a teacher, I find myself tending to act more cute in order to get my students to do what I want them to do. I mean, personally, I don’t like being told what to do, so I imagine Japanese students who are primarily lectured to and told what to do all the time don’t much like it either. So instead I act cute so they WANT to do things for me or feel like they have to because I’m just too nice to say no to. So basically, they all think I’m cute, but I’m actually just manipulative. Muhaha~ :D

  38. I actually don’t mind being called “cute,” but only around guys I’m interested in romantically, not in the workplace! I like being called “cute” because I’m feeling older now and it makes me feel a little young around guys. XD But being called “cute” by someone I’m not interested in, or works with me, or someone a lot older than I am? Ew. No thanks.

  39. I always just assumed “kawaii” and “idol” culture in Japan was exploitive at heart, like a particularly Japanese insubstantiation of the “male gaze” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_gaze).

    The impression I get while in Japan and in watching anime is that while fans are more than willing to extoll a “kawaii” idol’s capacity for compassion or enthusiasm, the consequences for an idol who tries to define her public image on her terms (or even just have a normal life) are severe. See http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/02/a-pop-star-shouldnt-shave-her-head-in-shame-for-having-a-boyfriend/272907/

  40. When I was younger and less mature, I said these things to girls:

    “You’re cute!! You’re very cute! The first word that guys use in reference to you, is ‘cute,’ and I find that very accurate!” She was hurt, and asked me, “Just ‘cute?'”

    Another time, to a different girl, being VERY awkward with words, told her, “You’re somewhere in between pretty and beautiful.”

    I thought about these missteps in my past, when I read this entry!

  41. ToriTonbo // 1 March, 2016 at 10:36 am //

    For me, I’m the exact opposite. My husband, the best thing in the world for me, tries so hard to make me feel as beautiful and “sexy” as he sees me, but I just am not on that wavelength. I’m (at least my mind says I am on bad days), short, fat, and boobs. That’s it. I have always preferred “cute” to “sexy”, because being quite a few cup sizes above everyone else (and especially having a family member point it out when you’re, like, 8, at a family reunion), doesn’t exactly make you want the attention that society puts with “sexy”, especially with the fact that I think that I’m pretty much asexual and have no interest in other people, and never have. “Cute” is safe, to me. “Cute” means, you aren’t physically attractive to me, you just look nice and cute. It’s probably a backwards way of thinking of it, from poor self esteem and (honestly) wanting to be in Japan and be kawaii and cute from a young age (rather than have people like me that I don’t know or like back). A grass is greener scenario, maybe? Anyway, now that I’m in Japan, I’m happy to go nuts and wear frills and lace and junk and release my inner cute doll (once I find cheap enough clothes that fit!) XD that’s my two cents :3

  42. ~raises hand in agreement~

    Same boat. Don’t like the cute. It definitely is in that status idea you wrote: the person isn’t taking you seriously, making you lower even though that’s not the exact intent. It’s hard to feel like your opinion is being valued when all you are is… cute. It boxes in how you’re supposed to act, and it influences how other people are called to perceive each other.

    Looking back to the times ‘cute’ has been used to describe me, I can only think of it when my girl friends would say “That’s a cute dress!” or “The sketch is cute!” and the like–not necessarily about me as a human, but the outfit/drawing I’ve produced. This doesn’t bug me so much, but it also has been amongst my friends and not with strangers who’s first assessment of me is visual.


    Whenever I think about people judging via looks, I think about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”. (Yes, the dude who wrote “The Scarlet Letter”). You realize, as you read, that beauty was viewed as a reflection of your soul (which is why the trope of a beautiful person being evil is used as an oxymoron). It’s also religion vs. science, but I’ll focus on the beauty part for this rant. The scientist’s wife is everything an 18th century woman should be–and she is beautiful except for a birthmark on her face. In order to achieve a fully beautiful wife, inside and out, the scientist works on elixirs to get rid of the birthmark.

    The ultimate science for the ultimate kawaii.

    Of course it ends tragically, but the idea that looks being a reflection of the soul and using words and action to influence others/yourself is an interesting, though infuriating at times, concept.

    Sorry for the complete wall of text! Stick to the first two paragraphs for less nerdy rants. xD

  43. I don’t like it when people call me cute either, or at least not in job settings.

    I mean, are you kidding me? Would you tell a grown man they were cute?…Shyah, I didn’t think so. -_-

    Why is it people feel like calling a woman cute in a business setting is okay? I simply don’t get it. It’s completely demeaning, because first of all, if your first instinct is to judge me based on appearance, I pretty much want nothing to do with you. And secondly, just like you said Grace, “cute” is a puppy or a little boy. I’m a grown-butt woman. Gimme a break.

    Now if my boyfriend or friend calls me cute or something, that’s another story. For obvious reasons. We’ve already established a rapport. We’ve confirmed that our relationship is not based on looks, etc.

  44. kireikireikirei // 1 March, 2016 at 10:26 am //

    Sorry, too late. You’re already cute. ;-)

    Don’t worry about that jealous person who made that comment!

  45. Anonymous // 1 March, 2016 at 10:21 am //

    It’s actually kinda funny, because a sixteen year-old girl told me today I was cute. I’m a twenty year-old woman, and I’m clumsy, I hate conflict, and I’m subject to social anxiety; I already feel “weak” enough so as NOT to need to be called “cute”. I know it wasn’t meant to be mean or anything, but still: “cute” feels so patronizing! And its especially humiliating when it comes from someone younger than you.

  46. I totally understand what you’re saying here Grace! I love cute things, but the idea what a person needs to be cute (who isn’t a child) is annoying to me. I think I found it most frustrating when I first moved to Japan in my mid-20s and i’m a tall Australian woman, there was no way it was even possible for me to be kawaii. It used to bother me because I always felt like a giant clumsy person next to my tiny Japanese friends, but now I just don’t care. I also think there’s less emphasis on people looking kawaii in Okinawa compared with the mainland.


  47. Living in Japan, I feel like when I am told I am ‘kawaii’ I tend to take it with a sense of pride. Only because in Miami, being cute is the worst possible thing someone could call you.

    I feel like a troll when I wear a suit because my half-latin body in a barely 5 foot tall form doesn’t look any shade of nice, so if I were to get ANY compliment I would be more than appreciative.

    That doesn’t mean when Ryosuke tells me I’m beautiful I don’t get weak in the knees. But, I feel like here–cute/kawaii is good/attractive, so I tend to take what I get.

    I love buying cute things to use, I hate them to wear though. Thankfully black is never much in style and always really cheap and on-sale though. :)

  48. I like being called cute. For me it’s a huge compliment (when it’s meant anyway). That being said, I don’t want to overdo any attempt at cuteness and I totally understand the other camp that doesn’t like it at all.

    I think I like being called cute because I’ve always been one of those girls that doesn’t really know how to do her hair (I can braid my hair and the last couple of years have taught me I can pull off a long curly perm) and I don’t know how to do my makeup beyond the basics either. My fashion sense can range from fitting in at a regency-era ball to being a 50s housewife to possibly being accused of stealing the fabric from a 70s couch or curtains to giving up and being downright comfy. I like it when someone calls me cute because I just don’t know how to manage ‘cute’ on my own. I kind of admire people that know HOW to pull it off, even if they don’t choose to do so all the time.

    We all have compliments we prefer and those we’d rather dismiss. I tend to try to take them all well, when I can tell they are honestly meant well, because at least around where I live (Oklahoma) it seems like people are becoming more afraid to compliment others in fear of sounding weird. I had a guy stop me on the sidewalk while Christmas shopping last year, and shout at me from a good 40 feet or more away ‘YOU LOOK AWESOME IN GLASSES’. It was awkward. And it made my day. Both for the compliment and for his confidence in going ‘Screw it’ and shouting it at me anyway. He walked away with a smile after that, having accomplished the only thing he wanted to say. I stopped a lady in the grocery store a few months ago because she looked stunning with short hair and I told her so. She acted nervous and disappeared after a quiet ‘thank you’.

    Compliments are strange beasts.

  49. Hi Grace.
    I can very much relate to your blog entry here. I graduated last year from university and started to work in a (very small) company in Tokyo. I still have the feeling that I don’t know my field of work also because getting used to a business world in Japanese is even more challenging than in your mother tongue…Therefore I don’t have the confidence to talk about business when I am at after seminar nomikais, because I don’t feel like I have the neccessary knowledge yet. Doing smalltalk is easier. Being recognized as a foreigner and getting in a conversation about that is easy, although I know they don’t recognize me as a business partner at all….
    I also recognized that it annoys me. My work of field is 99% full of male Japanese salaryman. Women are rare, veryyy rare. Now imagine a blond mid-twenty foreign girl in a crowd of 40-60 year old Japanese business man…I think you can relate to that.
    Foreign women are the worst and maybe also best combination. Right now I am maybe cute for them…I hope I get enough work experience to kick their ass some day (>_>) It will take a while, but as you said, we don’t wanna be cute. We wanna be confident, professional, competent!
    Let’s show them!!

  50. I think there is unfortunate stereotype in Japan that “American woman=giant and heavy” (compared to average Japanese bodies) definitely not feminine or pretty in Japanese eyes so people are perhaps a bit surprised to meet you and find you don’t fit the stereotype.

    I don’t mind being called kawaii by husband. Others, it’s iffy. But the best is when my tiny kids (students) say “sensei kawaii!” No YOU are the kawaii-est thing in the world but thank you lol

  51. I enjoy cute, my cat is super cute. And I can totally get into silly cute washi tape for my journal. But I’m a 38 year old woman, yeah being called “cute” pretty much makes me discount whatever else you say. (Unless you’re a 90 year old woman and then frankly I’ll take it because to you I’m like 12 and it doesn’t bother me.) From a guy, yeah. I start checking my drink and assuming he’s a moron who still thinks women aren’t as smart as men or something. ;)

    That said, I occasionally do buy totally cute and silly things for myself to wear because now and then *I* enjoy feeling fun and silly. (Obviously not in a business setting). But that’s for *me,* not because I want anyone else to think one way or another about me.

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