Writer Chris Pritchard finds Hello Kitty’s special kind of cute reveals the fun side of this fascinating culture.

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Brief case of fascination
Brief case of fascination

Sitting on a wooden stool in a tiny ten-seat restaurant facing an alleyway in Omoide Yokocho, on the edge of busy Shinjuku Station in Tokyo I am immersed in people-watching.

It’s early evening and crowds are everywhere. I’m so fascinated by the scene outside that despite the beauty of the elegantly arranged plate of tuna sashimi I just ordered, I can’t take my eyes off the commuters who squeeze past each other on their way to homeward-bound trains.

Many are salarymen, mid-tier white-collar office workers.

They rush past in well-cut business suits and ties – expressionless and almost all clutching briefcases.

These briefcases fascinate me.

I find myself wondering whether – wedged between business papers – there are quirky obento lunch boxes or other examples of a peculiar Japanese obsession: a love of kawaii, which means ‘cute’.

Kawaii brings a smile to the face of even the most serious-looking salaryman.

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