In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present – Francis Bacon.

Many people think that kawaii is all about being cute, but it’s about being loveable. Being loveable is the ability to be loved. In kawaii, you make yourself loveable by making yourself cute; by dressing in cute clothes, talking in a cute voice, even using cute products.

However, in this light and bubbly culture, there’s also something more. Wanting to be loveable, comes from a need and it really shows your vulnerability and feelings. Herein lies the crux, as this is very uncommon in Japanese culture; emotions are mostly kept inside, are not discussed and are not to be shown publicly. Moreover, mental health is another seemingly difficult topic within Japanese society. Especially teenagers who have a strong need to express themselves through verbal communication, can’t find an outlet within Japanese society. That’s why they choose to express themselves in a non-verbal way, by dressing in a way that fits how they feel. We discuss two sub-cultures of kawaii that, for the untrained eye, may seem as ‘standard’ kawaii but are really the darks sides of kawaii. 


Within kawaii, there’s a subculture that’s called Yamikawaii (yami stands for sick or dark) that refers to the ‘sick culture’ by using props to show pain, like plasters, syringes, fake guns, specs of fake blood, to show the mental pain someone is suffering from. Depression or anxiety are not mental conditions that are openly discussed in Japan, and the people who dress according to Yamikawaii want to express their pain. Sometimes they suffer from mental problems, but it can also be that they want to raise awareness and get rid of the stigma around these topics. As the word yami means both “sick” and “dark”, it revolves around, not only medical but also dark themes related to mental health. However, it’s not based on horror or gore; it’s all still very girly with pink, bows and ribbons, but with the medical props to show the yami in the kawaii.


Kowai-kawaii is a tricky one because it almost sounds like you’re saying the same thing. But there’s a big difference in the meaning because kowai (pronounced koy-why-ee) means scary whereas kawaii (pronounced ka-why-ee) means cute. In the sub-culture, these two are put together, and it’s all about blood, eyes popped out of their sockets, and other grotesque imagery. It’s a far more “Halloween”-version of kawaii, and more distinctive. Clothes are covered with fake blood, scars and wounds are drawn on the face and, a lot of gore is used to represent themselves.

Express yourself

These two above described darker sides of kawaii exist from the need to tell a story. Teenagers all over the world need an outlet for their thoughts, feelings and emotions. They’re searching for themselves and their place in society, it’s a shame that the only way they feel that they can be seen and give their emotional state a platform, is by showing it through scary props. On the other hand, we should also embrace that there is a platform for them albeit a bit odd from a Western perspective. Without the dark, we cannot see the light, and the light can’t feel as bright when we’ve never experienced the dark.

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