run Kitty run!
"Japanese women see value in youth and want to combine childishness and cuteness with sexiness and glamour," says Sakae Nonomura, a researcher with the cosmetics company Kanebo. "Cute has now grown so widespread that various types of cute coexist."
Indeed, Japanese have come up with nuances of cute such as "erotic-cute" and "grotesque-cute," and use such phrases in everyday conversations.
Thirty-eight-year-old garbage collector Hideki Kojima is such a believer in cute he patronizes a "maid cafe," one of several that have sprung up in Tokyo, where waitresses don maid outfits and greet customers by squeaking: "Welcome home, master."
Sometimes Kojima goes three times a day to the cafe, which serves food and allows customers to take photos and play games with the maids, drops as much as $90 a visit for a chance to gawk at the maids.
"They're cute," Kojima says with conviction. "It can't really be explained in words."
Nobuyoshi Kurita, sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo, says cute is a "magic term" that encompasses everything that's acceptable and desirable — this nation's answer to the West.
Kurita thinks it's important to watch Japan's youngsters, who see the bustling streets of downtown Tokyo — where the cute aesthetic is born — as the center of their universe.
"Where cute goes determines the future of Japan," he said, adding that Japan's cute offerings may one day command the respect of luxury goods from Europe. "If it succeeds, Japan's future will be bright. If it doesn't, then Japan may disappear."