Kawaii or the ‘Cute’ Subculture of Japanese fashion is taking a dark turn with what is known as Yami Kawaii.
Yami Kawaii, or ‘Sick Cute,’ is a spin on the typical fashion of Kawaii, which focuses on cute aesthetics—light pinks and blues, cartoon animal prints, and childlike novelty, such like that of Hello Kitty. Kawaii has been trendy in Japan for years, starting with the way that teenage girls wrote Japanese characters in the ‘70s—with the introduction of mechanical pencils, they began to write thinner, more bubbly “cute” characters with doodles next to them. The trend then began to take over in different fashion categories, as women and men alike adorned themselves with cute decorations and colors that emphasized Japan’s attraction to cuteness.
However, Japanese culture, like every culture, is not full of cuteness and happiness all the time. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates of any country in the world, yet the issue of mental health and one of its main causes—a collectivist work culture that often pushes people to put their community over their individual health—is not talked about as much in Japan as it is in cultures with even lower suicide rates.
Yet in Japan, people are taking to a form of silent protest by combining Kawaii fashion with elements of suicide and mental health to give awareness to this growing problem within the culture. Yami Kawaii fashion takes the cute colors and animal patterns of Kawaii fashion yet add images such as band-aids, medical equipment, and even fake blood to demonstrate the reality of Japanese mental health. And by combining these elements with Kawaii fashion, the people wearing Yami Kawaii are raising awareness for these mental issues in a culturally appropriate ‘fashion.’
Though Yami Kawaii appears to starkly contrast the Kawaii culture so well known in Japan, it is helping people with mental illness find refuge and acceptance through fashion. By having this silent form of self-expression, those who wear Yami Kawaii can silently express their innermost thoughts—and allow for a new sense of freedom from them in the process.
**TRIGGER WARNING**Tokyo's Harajuku street might be most well-known for cartoon characters, sparkles, & rainbows — the hallmark of its "kawaii," or cute, aesthetic — but more recently a darker subculture has emerged. In an offshoot style called yami kawaii, disturbing imagery of syringes and bandages live alongside baby pink lace and anime characters. We head in to discover who the tastemakers of yami kawaii are — and what drew them to it in the first place.
Posted by Style Out There on Monday, February 5, 2018
Sources: Refinery29’s Style Out There, BBC