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Eternal maidens: Kawaii aesthetics and otome sensibility in Lolita fashion

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Originating in Japan, Lolita is a consumer lifestyle fashion unrelated to the Vladimir Nabokov novel. The concepts that inform Japanese words like kawaii (cuteness), shōjo (young girl) and otome (maidenhood) are complex and varied. These keywords are explored through interviews with Japanese women from their teens to mid-40s who wear or have worn Lolita fashion. Participants in this study were asked to define and discuss these concepts and their responses provide an example of how women outside the age range of young girlhood build an identity and a space removed from social and familial obligations through a fashion movement that cultivates a specific vision of cuteness. By surrounding and adorning themselves with the things they adore, Lolitas assert their individuality and personality through a kawaii revolution. Otome and shōjo are the backbone concepts that drive this personal sense of kawaii, while its incarnation as Lolita provides a site for a lived practice and performance in which happiness is built through feelings, affects and states of becoming.
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Keywords: Japan; clothing; ethnographic research; fashion; material culture; shōjo culture; women studies; youth culture

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent Scholar

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is the first academic peer-reviewed journal for scholars, teachers, and students from around the world who have an active and passionate interest in the Popular Culture of East Asia. The journal is devoted to all aspects of popular culture in East Asia and the interplay between East Asia and the wider world. With the growth in popularity of Asian visual products in the Western world and the increasing strength of the Asian markets, this publication fulfills the need for an international journal that allows Western and Asian film, media, literary, music, fashion, digital media, television, art and cultural scholars alike to engage in discussion. In the last few decades there has been a huge rise in the interest in East Asian popular culture. The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture will be engaging directly with that trend. From film to music; art to translation and fashion to tourism, this journal will offer a forum where multidisciplinary work can come together in new and exciting ways.
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