We can’t think of Japan without associating it with the word kawaii! Not only is kawaii (かわいい) an adjective to describe something that is ‘cute’, ‘lovely’, or ‘adorable’, but it is also part of a bigger culture in Japan.
Kawaii culture encompasses the cute and quirky, from Harajuku fashion to anime and manga, mascots, games, cafes, and art. Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters are popular kawaii icons worldwide!
Now, Japan includes kawaii culture in efforts to boost its tourism, like creating prefectural mascots, and special character trains.
It’s not hard to find some cute words in the Japanese language. Some of them are rooted in kawaii culture, have a lovable meaning, or just sound really cute!
Gachapon machines are found everywhere in Japan. These carry tiny capsule toys, keychains, figurines, and other cute things that you can get randomly for around ￥100 to ￥500.
You can find a lot of gachapon machines in the Akihabara area of Tokyo, but due to its popularity, it’s no surprise to see even smaller stores with one or two machines out front!
One type of kawaii fashion is ‘decora’. This refers to the use of childlike, vibrant, and colorful pieces of hair, nail, and body accessories to decorate one’s outfit. The trend came from ‘80s Japanese comics and found its place among kawaii fashionistas.
Hoshi is the Japanese word for ‘star’. What can make this word even cuter? Hoshii (欲しい) sounds a bit similar, except that it has a longer ‘ii’ sound at the end, and it means ‘wanting to have’ or ‘wishing for’. Saying ‘Hoshi ga hoshii’ sounds very dreamy.
Taking photos in a photo booth is a popular activity for Japanese youth. Purikura comes from ‘print club’. This refers to photo booths that allow individuals to take, decorate, and print photos, cards, or stickers. You can add kawaii drawings like stars, hearts, bunny ears, and text to make a goofy, memorable photo!
This word means ‘peach’! Whether you’re thinking of the fruit or the color, the word for it is undeniably as cute as it sounds.
A common onomatopoeia you might see in romantic anime and manga is dokidoki, or ‘heart beating fast’. It’s a cute word for a cute feeling. Did that just make you think of someone in your life who makes your heart go dokidoki?
The Japanese word for ‘cat’ sounds just as cute as the creature! Some of the most popular cats in Japanese media include Hello Kitty and Jiji from the Ghibli film ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’.
Did you know that there are several islands in Japan that have a large feline population? Aoshima in Ehime Prefecture might be the most popular out of them!
What’s more fun to say than the word for ‘fun’? Tanoshii also means ‘enjoyable’ or ‘happy’. This cute Japanese word also has the kanji gaku (楽) which means ‘music’. From jamming to your favorite playlist to having a night out with friends, life with music is always tanoshii!
This cute-sounding and useful word means ‘delicious’! Oishii contains the kanji bi (美) which means ‘beautiful’ and aji (味) which means ‘flavor’. Make sure to compliment the chef at your favorite restaurant by using this!
Have you tried mochi? It is a Japanese glutinous rice cake used in different ceremonies and enjoyed as a snack or sweet! There are many different types of mochi, like daifuku, sakura mochi, and mochi ice cream.
Looking past its cute appearance and name, mochi is made from hard work. Traditional mochi is made through mochitsuki or rice-pounding. Check out this video of the mochitsuki process by Travel Thirsty!
Koi (恋) means ‘romance’. It’s not just any kind of romance. Koi pertains to a deep sense of longing and romantic love. Our first love or puppy love is translated as hatsukoi (初恋) in Japanese!
The Japanese love cute mascots called yuru-kyara. Mascots are created to represent businesses, organizations, and boost tourism in certain prefectures! They even hold an annual Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix to find the best mascots of the year.
The term is derived from yurui (緩い) which means ‘loose’, and kyarakuta (キャラクター) which means ‘character’.
The art style depicting cute, tiny versions of anime characters is known as chibi. While chibi can mean ‘small child’ and carry a positive connotation in manga and anime, it might be offensive to use in a regular conversation!
Chibi also means ‘short person’, and if it’s directed at someone, the person might take it in a negative light, especially if they are insecure about their height.
Kitsune is the Japanese word for ‘fox’. Though it is a cute Japanese word, kitsune has a rich background in Japanese folklore! These intelligent, paranormal foxes were said to serve as messengers of the Shinto god Inari. Many shrines dedicated to the same god also have statues of kitsune around the place.
This cute-sounding word means ‘full of spirit’ or ‘brimming with courage’! A person who is always in high spirits makes for a great companion, right?
Yuukirinrin is composed of three kanji. Yuu (勇) means ‘courage’ or ‘cheer up’, ki (気) means ‘spirit’, while rin (凛) means ‘cold’.
Cute Japanese words
Now you know lots of kawaii Japanese words that are sure to make you sound extra cute! Which is your favorite? Do you know any more cute Japanese words? Share in the comments!
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Thea is a freelance content writer, currently majoring in Japanese studies. She likes to create art and draws inspiration from film and music. Thea was inspired to study Japanese language and culture by reading the literary works of Haruki Murakami and Edogawa Ranpo.