There is very little in Japan that is not touched by the cult of cute. At its most outrageous, the cult of cute is expressed by certain kinds of Japanese girls who attempt in every way possible to convey a strong sense of the juvenile and vulnerable by way of their clothing (pinks and whites and frills and fluffiness), accessories (brightly colored, toylike, cartoon character-based), hairstyles (on the short side, with lots of clips, bands, ribbons, etc.), and posture (pigeon-toed and knock-kneed).
Cuteness also finds ultimate expression in many of Japan’s manga, and not only those aimed explicitly at children.
But even when you are clear of such extreme cuteness mania, the cult of cute can be seen to tinge all walks of life in Japan.
One example is an elderly candidate for president of a professional association I am a member of, who unabashedly campaigned as a fan of the Pikachu character, photos and all. (He was not elected!)
Otherwise elegant spaces in hotels, public halls, and the like will be blighted by a sudden figurine or poster that screams “four-year old.”
But perhaps what expresses the power of the cult of cute in Japan more than anything else is the incorporation of cute into the official image of the Japanese police.
In 1985 the Japanese police adopted a mascot known as Poepo (pronounced “pee-po”), which is an amalgam of the words “police” and “people.” This was part of a campaign, begun that year, to try and foster a sense of community between the police and the public.
Poepo is an orange mouse with a blue cap, wearing a police officer’s belt, and with a little yellow nose matching the yellow bell on the end of his cap. Peopo was created by none less than the legendary manga artist, Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), the creator of Astro Boy, among others.
Twenty-seven years later, Peopo is alive and well, as seen in the photos above taken of Kojimachi Police Station in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward.
The photographs above are of the Kojimachi Police Station in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward.
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