Disturbingly Cute? Here Are 3 ‘Kimo-Kawaii’ Japanese Characters!

  • If you think something is disgusting, frightening, gross, or otherwise disturbing, say a lecherous businessman or Fuji-Q Highland’s haunted house, you can call it “kimoi” or sometimes “kimo.” This comes from the longer phrase “kimochi ga warui” (気持ちが悪い), which means to have a “bad feeling.” If something is cute, you can say “kawaii” (かわいい), which I’m sure most of you have heard of before. So what is “kimo-kawaii?” It’s both disturbing and cute! How can something like this exist? As Japan is full of so many fascinating examples, it’s better to show you than explain. The following are three of my favorite kimokawaii characters.

    Kobito Zukan (こびとづかん)

    These little guys are my favorite kimokawaii characters! I view them more as kawaii, but I appear to be in the minority on this. They first made their appearance in 2006 in an illustrated book by Toshitaka Nabata. It was originally meant for children but soon became popular among some high school students and even adults. In fact, it was one of my high school students who introduced me to them in the first place!

    Kobito may be found almost anywhere – among peaches, in the middle of the forest, and even near cow udders. “Kobito” means “small person” or “dwarf.” “Zukan” is an illustrated reference book or illustrated guide. For those of you who can read Japanese, “zukan” is supposed to be ずかん in hiragana (図鑑 in kanji) and not づかん. This ‘mistake’ makes the word come across as childish or cute.

    Okazaemon (オカザえもん)

    Okazaemon’s appearance in 2013 delighted some but horrified others – a standard mix of emotions regarding all things kimokawaii. Representing the city of Okazaki in Aichi Prefecture, he joins hundreds of other government-backed mascots around Japan. Called “yuru-kyara” in Japanese, these mascots tend to be more on the cute side, but, as Okazaemon’s popularity can attest, sometimes going a little more towards the creepy spectrum can be just as attention-grabbing, if not more.

    Okazaemon’s face resembles the kanji 岡 (oka), while the kanji 崎 (zaki) appears on his chest; the two characters together spell out the city’s name in Japanese.

    Another example of a kimokawaii governmental mascot is Nara’s Sento-kun with his baby face and deer antlers. The image above is a rare shot taken at an event showing the two of them together!

    Okazaemon Website*Japanese Only

    Kodama from Princess Mononoke

    Kodama (木霊) are tree spirits. In Hayao Miyazaki’s popular film, Princess Mononoke, they are depicted as small humanoids with misshapen, rattling heads. I think they’re adorable, but, with the way their heads rattle and their socket eyes stare at you, others may find them more creepy than cute. These little guys are important to the film and represent the health of the forest.

    These are just a few examples of kimokawaii characters that are found in Japan. What others can you think of? Do you have any examples of characters from other countries that may be considered kimokawaii? Please leave a comment below!

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