Friday, September 18

Sugoi Kawaii

Oh, that darling Japanese stationery! One of the easiest ways to embed yourself in the imagination of another person is to simply find an outlet that sells a pad of super-cute Japanese stationery, write out a letter of a few pages, and send it along to a friend. The onus of being interesting has fallen squarely upon the shoulders of another nation, and Japan is more than apt to rise to the challenge.

These are little pads of paper with designs on them. The designs are in groups of ten or 20 sheets, with several variations in one pad, so you can select one of each design and write a small five-page note, for example. Sometimes they come with little envelopes, too, but these are formatted for Japanese addresses so you kinda have to superimpose our Western addressing system upon that.

I like them because they're cute in a way that isn't insulting. For some reason, with gimmicky Western icons of cuteness, I feel like the item in question carries the expectation that I have to meet it halfway in the suspension of my belief. On an abstract level I see a pitchman in a business suit wearing a shit-eating grin and proffering some tedious little doll at me, insisting, "Here's your brand-new beloved nostalgic icon! We're sure this doll is one for the ages, and you'll love her ever more with each year!" But they say this every year with some new piece of crap, and they're not even listening to themselves.

But with the Japanese items--well, maybe this is my naivete, my perception of everything Japanese as exotic and therefore favorably biased--it seems like they come with their own stories and backgrounds. Rather than "here's Strawberry Shortcake and all her dessert-themed friends," or "here's Rainbow Bright and all her color-themed friends," it's like "here's Ikumono: she loves green tea and lemon cookies, but her handwriting is not very good." There's something in those details that appeals to my humanity. I like the cute little character with weird little quirks. I want to meet her friends and see her town. I really feel like there's a context to them, a background, a substantial world that some thought went into.

The US keeps trying to refine a marketable Utopia, but Japan has mastered wabi-sabi, the beauty of slight imperfections. I know which world I'd rather live in.

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