Cute in Japanese — Your Guide to Japan’s Kawaii Culture

In this lesson, we learn how to say “cute” in Japanese. We will also focus on the Japanese “Kawaii” culture and some aspects of Japanese society. Let’s explore the cultural significance beyond language learning together.

a cute dog raising a paw looking cute

How to Say “Cute” in Japanese

In the Japanese language, the word “cute” is typically translated as かわいい (kawaii | 可愛い). It’s one of the most natural Japanese phrases for something or someone being “small and adorable” and “loveable.” Usually, people use it to describe children and female figures.

In the past, people used “kawaii” only to express positive feelings for something or someone small, young, and charming. It wasn’t an appropriate word for grown-ups before, but it had become a word that is used regardless of the age or social status of the target person over the years.

かわいい (kawaii | 可愛い) could mean cute, pretty, lovely, loveable, and adorable.

Origin of the term “kawaii”

The adjective かわいい (kawaii) is a sound variation of かわゆい (kawayui | 可愛) which derives from an ancient Japanese word かはゆし (kahayushi) or かおはゆし (hao hayushi) which means miserable and pitiful.

Although it holds the かんじ (kanji | 漢字 | Chinese characters) for “face” and “dazzling” in the phrase, it didn’t mean “cute” in ancient times. It eventually came to mean “small and loveable” and “adorable” around the Edo period from 1603 to 1868.

Here’s a breakdown of the related words:

  • かお (kao | 顔 | face, look, features)
  • はゆし (hayushi | 映ゆし | dazzling, embarrassed) *an ancient word

Example Sentences

  • かわいいこねこがうまれた。 (kawaii koneko ga umareta. | 可愛い子猫が生まれた。)

A cute kitten was born.

  • むかしから、「かわいいこにはたびをさせよ」といいます。(mukashi kara, kawaii ko ni wa tabi wo saseyo to iimasu. | 昔から、「可愛い子には旅をさせよ」と言います。)

People say “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” for a long time.) *It’s literally “Let cute children travel.”

  • そのふく、すごくかわいいね。(sono fuku, sugoku kawaii ne. | その服、すごく可愛いね。)

Your dress is so cute.

  • はじめてイルカをみたけど、とてもかわいかった。(hajimete iruka wo mita kedo, totemo kawaikatta | 初めてイルカを見たけど、とても可愛かった。)

I saw dolphins for the first time. They were so cute.

  • かわいこぶるな! (kawaiko buru na! | かわい子ぶるな!)

Don’t act cutesie!

Other ways to say “cute” in Japanese

Indeed, かわいい (kawaii | 可愛い) is one of the most common words for “cute” in Japanese, but there are many other similar Japanese words.

For example, when Japanese students learn English, it’s typical to comprehend “cute” and “pretty” as かわいい (kawaii | 可愛い), “beautiful” as きれい (kirei | 奇麗、綺麗), and うつくしい (utsukushii | 美しい).

Here are also some typical Japanese words for “cute.”

  • すてき (suteki | 素敵 | nice, lovely, great, beautiful, cool)
  • うつくしい (utsukushii | 美しい | beautiful, pretty, good‐looking)
  • きれいだ (kireida | 奇麗だ、綺麗だ | beautiful, pretty, good‐looking, fine, clean)

Example Sentences

  • どっちのいろがすてきだとおもう? (docchi no iro ga suteki da to omou? | どっちの色が素敵だと思う? )

Which color do you think is prettier?

  • かのじょのよこがおはとてもうつくしい。(kanojo no yokogao wa totemo utsukushii. | 彼女の横顔はとても美しい。)

Her profile is very beautiful.

  • はながきれいにさいています (hana ga kirei ni saiteimasu. | 花が綺麗に咲いています。)

The flowers are blooming beautifully.

Variations of “Cute”

Japanese people feel “loveable” and “adorable” in various situations. However, just like the English word “cute” or “pretty,” かわいい (kawaii) can change its definition depending on the object. Also, consider that the context and the speaker’s tone might alter the meanings.

Cute and Beautiful

  • すてき (suteki | 素敵 | nice, lovely, great, beautiful, cool)
  • きれい (kirei | 奇麗、綺麗 | beautiful, pretty, good‐looking, fine, clean)
  • うつくしい (utsukushii | 美しい | beautiful, pretty, good‐looking)
  • せいそ (seiso | 清楚 | cute, elegant, neat, and clean)

Cute, Youthful, and Fresh

  • ういういしい (uiuishii | 初々しい | innocent, fresh, youthful)
  • かわいらしい (kawairashii | 可愛いらしい | cute, pretty, lovely)
  • あいらしい (airashii | 愛らしい | cute, lovely, charming)
  • あいくるしい (aikurushii | 愛くるしい | lovely, charming)
  • いたいけ (itaike | 幼気 | young and cute, pitiful)

Cute and Innocent

  • かれん (karen | 可憐 | cute, lovely)
  • あどけない (adokenai | innocent, angelic, childlike)
  • きよらか (kiyoraka | 清らか | pure, chaste, clean)
  • てんしんらんまん (tenshin ranman | 天真爛漫 | innocent, simplicity)
  • じゅんしんむく (junshin muku | 純真無垢 | pure, genuineness, innocence)
  • むじゃき (mujaki | 無邪気 | innocence, simple-mindedness)

Cute and Childlike

  • あいくるしい (aikurushii | 愛くるしい | cute, childlike and lovely, charming)
  • こどもっぽい (kodomoppoi | 子供っぽい | childish, childlike appearance, immature)
  • おとなげない (otonagenai | 大人気無い | childish and disrespectful, immature)
  • あまちゃん (amachan | 甘ちゃん | cute, naive, softy)
  • ひよっこ (hiyokko | ひよっ子 | cute, naive, newbie)


  • かわゆす (kawayusu | cute, lovely)
  • やばい (yabai | cute, cool, terrible)
  • かわいすぎる (kawaisugiru | 可愛すぎる | super cute) *It’s literally “too cute”
  • おにかわ (onikawa | 鬼カワ | extremely cute) *It’s literally “demonly cute”
  • きゃわたん (kyawatan | extremely cute, lovely)

English Words

Words directly translated from English are also widely recognized in Japan. In addition to the cuteness-related expressions, native Japanese speakers use the following when they have positive impressions.

  • キュート (kyuuto | cute)
  • ラブリー (raburii | lovely)
  • ピュア (pyua | pure)
  • イノセント (inosento | innocent)

Japanese Culture and Kawaii

The Japanese word “kawaii” has become known through animations, comics, fashions, and other aspects of the captivating Japanese modern culture.

From adorable characters represented to the latest Tokyo fashion, the kawaii concept has become a vital part of describing Japan. We will explore the various factors of the Japanese Kawaii culture and other subcultures here.

Fictional Characters

Many people may be familiar with world-famous kawaii characters such as Pikachu, Mario’s Yoshi, Totoro, and Hello Kitty, but many other characters are popular across generations in Japan.

However, in Japan, numerous characters from Japan and abroad are gaining name recognition and popularity across generations.

According to a survey in 2000 by the Bandai Character Research Institute, 83.9% of Japanese in various age groups own some kind of character product, and 87.0% of them say they have a favorite character.

Kawaii-related words

  • キャラクター (kyarakutaa | game/comic/anime characters) *It often implies fictional characters and not the personality.
  • ゆるキャラ (yuru kyara | mascot, official character)
  • ごとうちキャラクター (gotouchi kyarakutaa | ご当地キャラクター | local mascot)


Before the internet became widespread, young Japanese girls preferred kawaii-looking round characters in handwriting. Then, the internet came into our everyday life, えもじ (emoji | 絵文字 | emoji), かおもじ (kaomoji | 顔文字 | emoticon), and cute handwriting fonts became popular and popular among the younger generation.

Example of a cute way to express feelings

  • – ̗̀ ( ˶’ᵕ’˶) ̖́-
  • ヾ(*´∀`*)ノ♡ワーイッ♡
  • ꒰ঌ(っ˘꒳˘c)໒꒱


Tokyo, the capital of Japan, offers a lot of things to do and see, but you can’t miss Tokyo’s fashion scene. From the luxury shops in Ginza to the Kawaii fashionista hotspots in Harajuku and Shibuya, Tokyo can provide diverse and exciting fashion experiences.

When Japanese women and men talk about clothes, they often use the following words.:

  • かわいい (kawaii | 可愛い | cute, girly, fancy)
  • きれい (kirei | 奇麗、綺麗 | beautiful, fine, sophisticated)
  • かっこいい (kakkoii | 格好いい | cool, stylish, good-looking) *かっこういい (Kakkouii | 格好いい) is the correct form.
  • おしゃれ (oshare | お洒落 | fashionable, stylish, cool)

Fashion genre and its typical styles

  • ロリータ (roriita | lolita fashion)
  • ゴスロリ、ゴシックロリータ (gosurori, goshikku roriita | gothic and lolita fashion)
  • びじゅあるけい (bijuaru kei | ビジュアル系 | style inspired by Visual-kei J-bands)
  • もりガール、もりボーイ (mori gaaru, mori booi | 森ガール、森ボーイ | style with earth tones and natural materials) *It’s literally “forest girls” and “forest boys”
  • ゆめかわいい (yume kawaii | 夢可愛い | dreamy and cute style with pastel colors, lovely prints and motifs)
  • エロかわいい (ero kawaii | エロ可愛い | sexy and casual style with lingerie, short dresses, and knee socks)
  • かっこかわいい (kakko kawaii | カッコ可愛い | cool, cute, and casual style with simple colors and design)


Have someone or your Japanese friends commented on your appearance before?

In the West, it’s not very nice to comment on someone’s appearance, but in Japan, as long as the comments are positive, people tend to think it’s okay. So, please don’t get offended or surprised. You may repeatedly hear compliments regarding how you or somebody else looks.

Example Words

  • びじん (bijin | 美人 | beauty, beautiful person)
  • びじょ (bijo | 美女 | beautiful woman)
  • びなん (binan | 美男 | beautiful man)
  • いけめん (ikemen | イケメン、イケ面 | good-looking guy)

Daily life and online interactions

The locals embrace cuteness in various aspects of daily life – from public spaces to the virtual realm. They often adopt adorable mannerisms, expressions, and even language to communicate a sense of charm and playfulness.

You might notice individuals using high-pitched voices and sweet gestures to appear more endearing. Some people even engage in online cosplaying and act kawaii in front of the screen, which can attract a significant number of views.

Final Thoughts

Japanese “kawaii” isn’t only about particular fashion styles or famous character goods. It’s just one side of the country’s subculture. Embracing this word means understanding how Japanese people interact and live, connecting with them on a deeper level.

Learning this phrase is like a bridge that helps you feel and experience Japan’s culture. Let’s start using the word かわいい (kawaii) and get used to it!

がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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