Japan’s time-honored aesthetic values

Haruhi Suzumiya
Image:©2006 谷川流・いとうのいぢ/SOS団 © 2008 NBGI on click The anime adaptation of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱 Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu?), produced by the Japanese animation studio Kyoto Animation

“Moe” (萌え, mo’e), came out in 90th, is not a trendy concept something popping out of the blue, but an aesthetic sense that has intricately tied to the ideas mentioned below. It comes from literally a blossoming or "budding" - or in association with the similar sound as the words for “moyasu” or “moeru”, which mean "burning" in the sense of one's heart burning, or burning with passion. In his book, Okuno says, “moe” originally refers to the otaku’s (オタク, geekish male) affection for heroines in “bishoujo” ( <美少女/span>, bishōjo, beautiful girl) anime, the term becomes widely used in referring to distinctive interest in particular objects or phenomena. Sugiyama Tomoyuki, author of "Cool Japan", interprets “moe” that it implies close but unattainable pent-up feelings of a boy not being able to tell his own feelings directly to a girl because of the difference in social position.

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon Translated by Ivan Morris

Adorable Things

The face of a child drawn on a melon.

A baby sparrow that comes hopping up when one imitates the squeak of a mouse; or again, when one has tied it with a thread round its leg and its parents bring insects or wotms and pop them in its mouth – delight full!

A baby of two or so is crawling rapidly along the ground. With his sharp eyes he catches sight of a tiny object and, picking it up with his pretty fingers, takes it to show to a grown-up person.

A child, whose hair has been cut like a nun’s, is examining something; the hair falls over his eyes, but instead of brushing it away he holds his head to the side. The pretty white cords of his trouser-skirt are tied round his shoulders, and this too is most adorable.

A young Palace page, who is still quite small, walks by in ceremonial costume. One picks up pretty baby and holds him for a while in one’s arms; while one is fondling him, he clings to one’s neck and then falls a sleep.

The objects used during the Display of Dolls. One picks up a tiny lotus leaf that is floating on a pond and examines it. Not only lotus leaves, but little hollyhock flowers, and instead all small things, are most adorable.

An extremely plump baby, who is about a year old and has a lovely white skin, comes crawling towards one, dressed in a long gauze robe of violet with the sleeves turned up.

A little boy of about eight who reads aloud from a book in his childish voice.

Pretty, white chicks who are still not fully fledged and look as if their clothes are too short for them; cheeping loudly, they follow one on their long legs, or walk close to the mother hen.

Duck eggs

An urn containing the relics of some holy person.

Wild pinks.

  • cf. Drawing faces on melons was a common pastime, especially for women and children.
  • cf. Squeak of a mouse: women and children of the leisured class often kept baby sparrows and othe little birds as pets. The squeak of a mouse was a chū-chū sound used attract pet birds.
  • cf. nuns: i.e. cut at shoulder length. So great was the aesthetic value attained to a woman’s hair that nuns were not expected to take the tonsure, but simply cut their hair at about the level of their shoulders.

“Kawaii” (かわいい or 可愛い) is similar to “moe” in the meanings, cute or adorable, but “kawaii” is more general and less obsessed than “moe”. The Japanese in general use an adjective, kawaii frequently in every speech, but in the context of specific aesthetic sense; the term is used mostly by women.

A slang ward, “kawaii” or cuteness is a relatively-recent phenomenon, has emerged from 1970s becoming a prominent aesthetic of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior, and mannerisms. But the sensibility could be already seen in the “ocho” (<王朝/span>, ōchō, dynasty) culture in early 10th to 11th century. From her aesthetic point of view, Sei Shōnagon (清少納言, 966? – 1025?, Japanese author and a court lady) depicted Adorable Things – corresponding to today’s “kawaii” - in her essay, The Pillow Book (枕草子 makura no sōshi).

Sugiyama believes that "cuteness" is rooted in Japan's harmony-loving culture, and Nobuyoshi Kurita, a Japanese sociologist, has stated that "cute" is a "magic term" that encompasses everything that's acceptable and desirable in Japan. The aesthetic feeling of “moe” underlies Japanese Manga and Anime is not found in any animation or cartoon in Europe and the United States. And it is a factor that makes Japanese Manga and Anime attractive, Okuno says.

You can find myriad Manga and Anime having “moe” and “kawaii” expression in character’s appearance or personality; “moe” also appears as psychological description of the leading character who feels “moe” affection for the heroine.

Rumiko Takahashi (高橋留美子, Takahashi Rumiko) is the most distinguished and the most affluent manga artist in Japan. The manga she creates (and its anime adaptations): Urusei Yatsura(うる星やつら),Ranma ½ (らんま1/2),Maison Ikkoku(めぞん一刻), InuYasha (犬夜叉), are popular worldwide. Ryo Isobe a Japanese writer says that her character modeling is the archetype of “moe”.

Japan’s time-honored aesthetic values

Maison Ikkoku
©高橋留美子/小学館

Maison Ikkoku (めぞん一刻 Mezon Ikkoku) is a Japanese seinen manga written and illustrated by Rumiko Takahashi. Maison Ikkoku is a bitter-sweet comedic romance involving a group of madcap people who live in a boarding house in 1980s Tokyo.

Besides Takahashi’s “kawaii” fine line drawing,Maison Ikkoku, a grand roundabout romantic comedy, well describes maddening “moe” affection of Godai and Kyōko caused by their wishy-washy attitude, misunderstandings, and jealousy.

Along with this classic masterpiece, Japanese Manga and Anime fans pick out “moe” works such as: The Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shin Seiki Evangerion), Love Hina (ラブ ひな, Rabu Hina), Lucky Star (らき☆すた, Raki☆Suta) , Rozen Maiden (ローゼンメイデン), and Haruhi Suzumiya (涼宮ハルヒ, Suzumiya Haruhi).

—ODAKANE Fuji

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