Pokemon and Soft Power Part 2: Kawaii and Consumption.

I came across an article this week that discussed the concept of Kawaii and how this seemly abstract notion that best translates as “cute” in English is incorporated into Japanese consumerism. For this blog post, I will briefly discuss a section of this paper and do my best to link the concepts Allison describes to my research into Japanese soft power and Pokemon.
This topic could be an entire essay in itself, and there is a part of me that would love to research this topic much more thoroughly, but alas, I’m short on time and words!

Allison (2003) describes the concept of kawaii  as a notion that combines “the qualities of amae—sweetness connected to dependence—and yasashii—gentleness”. While kawaii is linked to girls and girlishness, it is not exclusively ‘feminine’ (Allison, 2003). Someone’s personality can be called kawaii, for example, and so can a boy’s face. This definition aligns with my understanding of the concept of cuteness.

Interestingly, Allison notes that “Yasashii” or the gentle aspect of cuteness is the word Japanese producers use to describe the marketing of Pokemon in Japan:

If there is something soothing and appealing about a Doraemon or a Pikachu, the aim of marketers has been to extend and expand this emotional relationship into more and more vistas of commodifiable existence. As the Japanese toy company, Bandai, articulates this principle, a child’s happiness can be maximized by spreading her favorite character on everything from PJs, backpacks, and lunch boxes to breakfast cereal, bath bubbles, and galoshes – Allison, 2003.

The comments that Allison makes on what kawaii has come to mean and its relationship to how Pokemon has been used as a commodity speaks to the notions of soft power. It is my understanding that it is the combination of Pokemon’s cute factor, and the way both game and toy companies have capitlised on the cute appeal of Pokemon that have helped to popularise the  franchise internationally, as thus increase the appeal of Japanese culture internationally.



Allison, A. (2003). Portable monsters and commodity cuteness: Pokemon as Japan’s new global power. Postcolonial Stud., [online] 6(3), pp.381-395. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1368879032000162220 [Accessed 8 Oct. 2014].


  1. Hey Ellara,
    You’re so right, this is such a huge topic that could be explored for days on end! You should keep looking into it for your final project!
    It’s also very interesting – I don’t know much about Pokemon or kawaii culture myself, and I thank you for the definition!
    I often see many people on my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts using the hashtag #kawaii on photos of themselves or friends, in which they seem to be parodying or mocking Japanese and Kawaii culture, and I often wondered why this would be.
    Of course, after your research into Kawaii in relation to pokemon, it is a hugely popular concept among both men and women, and I struggle to see why people in Western countries such as Australia find the need to make fun of what it stands for.


  2. This is a really good way to look at both the marketing of brands to children and the soft power aspect. I never considered the cuteness of Pokemon to be done just for the marketing side of it, to make it both more accessible and help it penetrate the market. All in all this is definitely something I’ll have to look into in my spare time, especially as someone who spends far too much time with his own Pokemon team.


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