Cute Inc.

What can you say about a high-powered exec with an Elmo charm on his cell phone? He gets it.

  • Editors' Pick
  1. Over the last year and a half, the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways spent upwards of a million dollars in licensing fees and paint to decorate the exterior of three Boeing 747s with colorful, 20-foot-high Pocket Monsters from Pokémon, the Nintendo Game Boy phenomenon-slash-hit cartoon-slash-just released Warner Bros. movie-slash-merchandising blitz. The assumption is that Japanese men and women will line up for the opportunity to ride a jet whose fuselage, headrests, and beverage cups are decorated with the adorable yellow whatever-he-is, Pikachu.

    To anyone who knows Japan, the assumption seems apt. There, the pull of the cute is a powerful and omnipresent force. The Japanese are born into cute and raised with cute. They grow up to save money with cute (Miffy the bunny on Asahi Bank ATM cards), to pray with cute (Hello Kitty charm bags at Shinto shrines), to have sex with cute (prophylactics decorated with Monkichi the monkey, a condom stretched over his body, entreating, “Would you protect me?”).

    They see backhoes painted to look like giraffes and police kiosks fixed up like gingerbread houses. Each of Japan’s 47 prefectures has its own adorable mascot, as do the Tokyo police and the government television station. Home-run-swatting ball players are handed a plush stuffed animal when they cross the plate. Well-heeled city women are dropping yen by the millions on a Kansai Yamamoto couture line called Super Hello Kitty. Teenage boys tattoo themselves with Badtz-Maru, th...

Originally published in Wired, December 1999