Japanese boy kimono 1950-1960’s
GALERIE RUF AG
WOLFGANG RUF · FISCHERGASSE 3 · CH-6362 STANSSTAD (SWITZERLAND)

Kawaii’ in Japanese is an adjective (in the context of Japanese popular culture), “she paints elephants that are extremely kawaii” and as a noun, the quality of being cute, or items that are cute. It is both a quality characteristic and a value characteristic. ‘Cuteness’ has a value, think of “Hello Kitty”.

In Japanese, the word literally means “acceptable for affection” or “possible to love” and has been translated as meaning “cute,” “adorable,” “sweet,” “precious,” “pretty,” “endearing,” “darling,” and even “little.” Its use varies in Japanese and can refer to babies, puppies, young people, clothing, and even senior citizens. In Japanese, one might refer to one’s own grandma as kawaii, even if she’s not decked out in pink bows and a frilly dress. 

Kawaii was used in the 11th century novel The Tale of Genji, where it referred to pitiable qualities. During the Edo period (1603-1868), kawaii implied that women were docile. The influence of the Kewpie doll, made in USA in 1910, became kawaii and became an immediate popular theme and is to this day.

Yumeji Takehisa, an illustrator born September 1884, was also a poet. He is known foremost for his Nihonga illustrations of bijin, beautiful women. His concept of beauty was a long face with narrow eyes, thin eyebrow. This concept changed with illustrator Rune Naito with a shorter face, and more rounded eye, and lighter color hair, a common sight through 1950-1960s,. Rune Naito, who produced illustrations of “large-headed” (nitoshin) baby-faced girls and cartoon animals for Japanese girls’ magazines from the 1950’s-1970s is credited with pioneering what would become the culture and aesthetic of kawaii. Dating this kimono was difficult. The idea of ‘kawaii’ has been a part of Japanese design for hundreds of years. The presence of so many flags of former enemies, sends a message of hope and unity. I believe the textile designer choose flags that appealed rather than any political message. If there was no lining, it may have been purchased and used during very desperate and poor times, 1946-1950. Unlined kimono became a common sight through the 1950-1960’s. Children still were born, and celebrations still held. This is a happy color with peaceful designs.