In Japan, Kawaii is the most used word of all the time. Yet, what does this word mean? Literally Kawaii is the Japanese word for “cute” and it is nowadays seen as a “national ideology” that pervades every aspect of a Japanese woman’s life. It seems that the society with this constant need of “cuteness” in the everyday life wants to escape from brutal realities; it could be seen as a reaction to post-Hiroshima or it could just be an escape from the constant pressure of society, of schools or workplaces…but, how can we not get trapped into prepacked ideologies?
Haruka Mikata wants to report her journey inside her inner self and the experiences and fears she went through refusing the ideologies that society wanted to impose on her. Through her story, she wants to push all of us to find our inner light and make us aware that youth pop culture is not as liberative and apolitical as we think, but they are quite obstructing and stereotyped.
“It was a snowy, grey afternoon in the winter of 1999. I was walking down the street to go to the local shop to get some milk. I was all wrapped up in my old pea coat rescued from a flea-market in my neighbourhood walking very fast and my chunky knee length scruffy boots were leaving deep imprints in the snow. A tremendous cold, isolated feeling was floating inside my body. I wanted to run away. My legs were walking faster and faster and I just let myself be carried away. I had no control. For some reason I wasn’t feeling comfortable but I knew I would be home shortly and that was the most important thing. My flat was the only place where I really wanted to be, the only place in which I would have felt protected. I would be back on the 5th floor of my apartment very soon, I repeated to myself over and over again. I could finally fold over the drawing paper I was working on and I could just go back to my favourite hobby: watching the young people walking on the street beneath me.
This has always been one of my obsessions…watching young peoples behaviour, what they wear and how they try to conform to the society they live in. I’ve always asked myself “why do people let themselves be guided by something that society one day chose to dictate? Do young people believe in these principles or are they just trying to be accepted by mainstream society?” I grew up and lived in a society that was looking at me for what I do, for what I proclaim not for what I wear; If I wear a black leather corset it is because it reflects my mood at the time, it’s not because I want to look like an archetype seen in a magazine or on the streets of trendy capitals. I didn’t grow up in a society where it mattered how big your eyes were, how fluttering your eyelashes were, how many decades younger you look, or even which Disney character you look like!
These thoughts had been floating in my mind for a lot of time but at some point they started to harass me more and more and suddenly one day I felt a sense of fear. I was scared for my daughter. I would have to give birth to a whole new person in a couple of months and I was afraid for her life. I was mortified by the idea that she would have to grow up with fake ideals just because she was born into this society in which everything depends on “look”. Constant fear and overwhelming anxiety pervaded my existence in the last few months of my pregnancy. These feelings wouldn’t let me go for a while. I kept thinking…obsessing even with myself and with my dark thoughts, spending all my days watching people’s lives. I was observing young teenagers, I was examining them with the eyes of a maniac noting her swag and I was compulsively and continuously thinking at how these attitudes could have affected my daughter’s life.
I spent hours and hours at my apartment window. I had the constant feeling of being a spectator… maybe a spectator of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” in which the young girl dresses in amazingly elaborate doll looking costumes…but for me it was just an anguishing show of white frilly blouses and knee-length lacy dresses taking the shape of cultural homogenisation. The thing that scared me the most was that this trend associated the childlike idea of the adorable, innocent, gentle and vulnerable girl with womanhood. All I could keep asking myself was “why should people accept such a limited representation of gender?”
At some point, I understood that I had to liberate these dark feelings inside me so that I could move past my fears. I wanted to be able to understand myself and others. I was sure that all human beings have different sides from what we see on the surface but since, this fascination with girlhood was the only thing I was seeing at that time I viewed the world around me as an exotic and childish playground in which young people were losing themselves. This world could have not been all about harmony, “happy cuteness” and childlike behaviours in real life. Letting my feelings out would have helped me when I was going through this stage of my life. I was sure that every single person was an uncontaminated individual before society’s stereotypes took over him/her and extracted their personalities. I parsed out what was behind these people and what lay within myself. All this emotional disorder came out in my art, I slowly began a liberating process that helped me to understand my real self. I started drawing my own vision of their hidden worlds, drawing the dark hidden feeling thats that were floating in their veins, the feelings they didn’t want let out…I started producing gothic handcrafts with paper and vinyl for kindergarten magazine, cartoon characters of rock bands, gothic dolls and alternative doll’s houses and also scary food for Halloween parties; I also began making my own clothes and dressing in the most funky and alternative way so that I definitely could not be put into any stereotyped category.
For me, it was a spiritual trip that made me who I am today and helped me to reflect on what I really believe. I did break the schema that society offered me. I am and I do what I think is the best for me and not what the society wants me to be. Now I am not afraid for my little daughter either. I’m sure she will follow my example and she will stand up for whatever she is. If she wants to wear vintage victorian fluffy skirts, lace and frills because she thinks that is the way to express herself and this will make her feel comfortable and beautiful, I will be happy with that, as long as it represents her real self. I do believe in a society where everybody can express their emotions through style and through what they do.
Do not be afraid to show your real self, go and stand out from the crowd. There is space for all of us out there and whatever it is, it s just your own different twist!