Cute invasion embraced by Australia

The Japanese kawaii craze is sweeping the world, splashing bright colours, bold prints and whimsical child-like cuteness.

The Japanese kawaii craze is sweeping the world, splashing bright colours, bold prints and whimsical child-like cuteness.

Jenna Templeton, 29, blogger, zine editor and online merchant of all things kawaii, says she was instantly enamoured by the craze when she visited Tokyo five years ago.

"It was such an amazing experience, it feels like you're on a different planet. It's like taking a step back into your childhood. Lots of their stores are based around nostalgic characters: Care Bears, Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake," she says.

Kawaii is directly translated as "cute" and the style is the antithesis of the sexy American pop culture.

"In Japan, kawaii cute is better than being sexy. I'm quite short myself, I'm 29 but I look about 18, and [in Japan] I had girls pointing and me saying 'Kawaii, kawaii'. They love the cute doll-face look," Templeton says.

The full kawaii dress is abundant in Tokyo's fashionable Harajuku district, with girls dressed in lacy cutesy dresses, with large-eyed doll make-up and pink or white hair full of little bows.

Templeton says kawaii is ingrained in every element of Japanese culture, from their handcrafts, attention to detail in wrapping gifts in stores and even on building sites, where she has seen witches' hats the shape of plastic pink bunnies.

While the rest of the world hasn't embraced the head-to-toe kawaii look, its key elements are influencing global fashion, accessories and craft, including intricate nail art, bright mobile phone accessories and decorative brightly coloured washi tape, which can be used for wrapping gifts, making art or sticking on the wall to frame a photo.

"We're looking at polka dots and bright colours and the fashion here includes lots of pastel colours now, which is using the colour palette from kawaii," she says.

Templeton has written extensively on her My Life As A Magazine blog about the surge of kawaii in Australia, where a number of Japanese chains are opening, such as Daiso with its kawaii stationery and household products, as well as Japanese-inspired Australian businesses.

"There's lots of different business opportunities that can come out of [kawaii] for people who know how big the culture is getting in Australia," Templeton says.

Jennifer Lee, 29, has made her full-time business selling handmade fox and cat ears, a feature of kawaii and also of the Japanese anime culture. After finishing her computer science degree, Lee started selling her products at anime conventions around Australia and also found success online through her Etsy shop, Nekochii.

"Animals and even ordinary objects with cute faces on them is kawaii culture," she says.

Lee says her business is growing rapidly, as more people understand and follow the craze.

The owner of Melbourne retailer Pet Shop Girls, Chiara Ippoliti, 24, has also tapped into the popularity of kawaii.

"At least one girl comes into the shop a day with white or pink hair," Ippoliti says. "Fashion and style proliferates itself throughout the world. You can start with one cool image on Instagram from Japan and the next thing you know everyone wants that."

Ippoliti says accessories are the way most Australians embrace kawaii. Bright socks are the most popular item sold in her store.

"A lot of people are well and truly obsessed with all things Japanese," she says.

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