Does Size Matter? In the U.S., Bigger is Better, but in Japan, “Kawaii” (cuteness) Rules the Day

March 16, 2007 at 3:09 pm 1 comment

My name is Sarah S. and I’m very excited to be blogging for JPBizDirect. I’m originally from Chicago (brrr), studied communications at Ithaca College in upstate New York (equally, if not more, brrr) and moved to Los Angeles (ahh, warmth) in 1999. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Tokyo and Kyoto. I’ve also traveled to Zimbabwe, Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, France and the Netherlands. I’m crazy about Japanese food, art and culture (both old and new), and look forward to bringing you all things helpful, fun, informative and occasionally bizarre from the land of the rising sun!

In the U.S., advertisers seduce us with bigger cars, bigger houses and bigger backyards. We’re supposed to eat Big Macs at McDonalds, drink Big Gulps at 7-11, drive enormous SUVs and Hummers, and watch movies on big-screen TVs.

This obsession with “more, more, more” even includes the mundane act of shaving. Got three blades on your Mach3 razor? Not good enough! Try the Schick Quattro with four blades! No, wait! Try the Gillette Fusion with five blades!

For women, big breasts are a plus, but let’s not go there; large eyelashes are also coveted, as are king-size beds and enormous, walk-in closets. Maybe it’s our wide-open spaces or the frontier-history of the country. Skyscrapers grow taller, first class grows wider; and we all want a piece of it.

In Japan, the opposite is often true. When I visited Tokyo and Kyoto with my husband, we noticed a fascination with neatness, smallness, and cuteness. At a corner grocery store in Kyoto, Asahi beer came in size small: 5 ounces (135 ml). Miniature candy and snacks came in small boxes, and inside, each chocolate was individually wrapped.


Pop idols like Puffy AmiYumi, manga comics featuring young female characters and their pets, usually cats, are also very small and cute.

RememberHello Kitty? Back in the 1980s, the ubiquitous meower reached peak popularity among schoolgirls in the U.S., but the concept of cuteness or kawaii(ka-wa-EE) has been prevalent in Japan from the 1970s to present day, and Sanrio, the company that created Hello Kitty, is still going strong. Round faces, wide eyes and tiny bodies are still the preferred look for cartoons and mascots.

Pikachu from Pokemonis seen soaring the skies on All Nippon Airlines (ANA) planes, and an adorable creature – I honestly have no idea what it is — represents the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.


Hotel rooms and bathrooms in Japan are quite small by American standards, but though the cities I visited were crowded, I never felt claustrophobic. This was partially because of the orderliness, politeness and tidiness; even the subway stations were extremely clean, and everything seemed to have its place.

To Americans, it seems strange to combine cartoon characters with real estate, government or the air force, but despite our differences with Japan in this area, there is plenty of crossover. Global interest in Japanese manga has never been higher. Maybe, like Goldilocks, we’ll have to find the size that’s “just right”!

Sarah S.

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Entry filed under: Japanese Culture. Tags: , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Kampai! Japanese Beer for Kids! « Japanizmo Staff Blog  |  January 9, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    […] August 14, 2007 When I visited Tokyo and Kyoto with my husband, we noticed a fascination with neatness, smallness, and cuteness. At a corner grocery store in Kyoto, Asahi beer came in size small: 5 ounces (135 ml). […]


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March 2007


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