Kawaii may be simply translated as “cute,” but the term implies much more. With origins back to the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan, kawaii art appealed particularly to women, evoking feelings of love, care, and protectiveness. Kawaii evolved into a counterculture movement with young girls and teens idealizing childhood and a carefree life. And, with the birth of Hello Kitty in 1974, Sanrio launched kawaii as international commodity. The universal appeal of loveable innocence and charm is what makes kawaii culture so popular in Japan and all over the world.

There is no lack of kawaii in Japantown and almost all the stores in the center have something too cute to pass up. There are even specialty shops that exclusively carry merchandise of the kawaii variety. Considering itself the “one stop-shop for everything kawaii,” Amiko Boutique has the brand names from Momoji dolls to Tokidoki backpacks. Mee specializes the latest in Japanese and Korean fashion. It also has K-pop fan products and plushies, the cute little stuffed characters found on everything from key chains to lamps. Not only does Moritaya have anime goods, but also model toys and figures, and Japanese beauty products. Suki Boutique specializes in handbags and accessories, including jewelry and sunglasses. Find more accessories at Yumi Boutique along with masquerade masks for kawaii dress up occasions. And, be sure and capture your kawaii at Pika Pika. The J-Pop photo booth offers several customized backgrounds including a pose with aliens. Decorate your pictures with cat and/or dog ears, makeup options, and much more.

Kawaii can be found throughout Japantown and cute doesn’t have to cost a lot as proven by Daiso, the front runner of dollar stores. At Daiso, kawaii comes in the form of unique household goods, stationary, toys, even food, with most items priced at $1.50. Japantown Video and Media not only has an extensive selection of anime, but it also is the number one source of Japanese and Korean dramas. Kinokuniya, which is much more than a bookstore carries many kawaii items. In addition to books in Japanese and English, they have anime inspired toys, clothing, even household items. Kinokuniya also has a specialty manga and anime store and their stationary shop, Mai Do, has everything cute from pens and pencils to erasers and stickers, and of course, specialty papers.

New People, is an entertainment complex that promotes the latest in Japanese popular culture through film, art, fashion, and special events. Plenty of kawaii may be found in the three-story complex, along with J-Pop and Cosplay fashions. Maruq, the “ultimate kawaii” specialty boutique celebrates Tokyo’s Shibuya and Harajuku fashion with designer labels. All about baby doll frills and lace, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, specializes in Japanese Lolita fashion. It also showcases playful clothing and accessories, as well as an androgynous and mystic line of attire.

Nippon-ya is a visual delight of kawaii packaging. The Japanese food boutique features well-known traditional sweets as well as interesting and fun confections. The shop also has a variety of Hello Kitty items.

Celebrating its 50th year in Japantown, Paper Tree, owned and operated by the Mihara family, knows kawaii. The stationery store specializes in origami books and paper in addition to selling kawaii paper, cards, stickers, and more. The family’s award-winning origami artists also teach classes and host special events.

More than a trend, kawaii culture is fashion forward and fun. Cute and playful, the culture continues to evolve and the latest in kawaii can always be found in Japantown.