Kawaii, or cuteness, is a prominent aspect of Japanese culture. But kawaii goes beyond just a look or mannerism; it is also a form of visual language, used to communicate everything from branding to public signage. And it’s not just about being coy and cutesy, it’s also used to refer to things that are attractive and appealing.
Spend enough time in Japan and you’ll find it hard to resist the charm and humour of kawaii culture. To help you find your kawaii heaven, we’ve pulled together the best courses and on-the-spot experiences to get a touch of cute into your life. Bear in mind that all courses require advance booking unless stated otherwise.
Get cute with Tokyo
The easiest way to get kids to eat a complete meal, bento filled with panda-shaped rice or little sausages cut up like octopuses are de rigueur in Japanese schools, with many a housewife becoming ever-more creative in their quest.
There are countless bento-centric cookbooks around, but for a real taste of how to create a well-balanced yet cute lunchbox, look no further than Tokyo Kitchen’s cooking classes in Asakusa. They offer both bento box and character sushi courses – how about making teddy bear or bunny-shaped sushi, or a bento box with little inarizushi (sweet tofu stuffed with rice) bears?
The instructor, Yoshimi, will guide you through the entire process in English, and you’ll leave with all the recipes in a little booklet, too. Your kid’s lunch will be the envy of all their friends.
Classes from ¥7,560/person, Mon-Fri from 10am. Online booking and PayPal payment only, courses can be booked for one person too.
You’ve probably seen those plastic food samples at countless restaurants around the city, but did you know you can make them yourself ? In the heart of Asakusa’s Kappabashi ‘Kitchen Town’ district, Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya has been producing plastic replicas for display in restaurant windows since 1932, but in recent years it’s also wised up to the tourist market.
There’s an upstairs space where visitors can try their hand at making mock tempura and lettuce by dipping the real things in resin. If that sounds like too much effort, the shop’s fake food keyrings, magnets and phone straps make for great (albeit far from cheap) souvenirs.
¥2,300/person. Reservations by phone (0120 17 1839) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Note classes are taught in Japanese; bring an interpreter if your Japanese is shaky.
The cutest and prettiest of sweets, wagashi (literally ‘Japanese sweets’) are generally made from two main ingredients: rice cakes and azuki bean paste. You’ll find them ready- made at fancy department stores and supermarkets alike, and they make for great (albeit perishable) gifts.
They may also look like absolutely impossible tidbits to recreate yourself, but that’s where Meguro- based Simply Oishii comes in. In two and a half hours or less, instructor Miyuki will guide you through the process of making a few different types of cute wagashi from scratch.
We were convinced we wouldn’t even get close to acceptable results, but Miyuki is so good at explaining how exactly you need to position your fingers to properly fold everything around that finicky ball of bean paste that we were very pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Parents, you’ll be glad to know she also hosts classes for kids.
¥6,000 for 2.5 hours (4 wagashi), ¥5,000 for 1.5 hours (2 wagashi). Classes available on request, bookings from two ppl.
A type of traditional Japanese sweet, amezaiku are beautiful little sugarwork statues, usually depicting animals. The art of sculpting them involves heating rock-hard candy, and then shaping it quickly by hand or with scissors before it cools and hardens.
At Ameshin, they’re dedicated to keeping this time-honoured yet laborious tradition alive. If you’re just looking for a pretty piece of candy or to admire the master’s work, head to Ameshin’s Tokyo Skytree Solamachi shop.
To get your hands all sweet and sticky, meanwhile, you should go straight to their Asakusa workshop. In just under two hours, you’ll be taught how to make a cute little rabbit. It’s challenging but fun and a totally unique experience – where else are you going to learn how to create a sweet piece of art?
Classes ¥3,000 (kids ¥2,500). Book by emailing email@example.com. Note that classes are taught in Japanese, but English manuals are available.
Cutting beautiful geometric patterns into colourful glass is one of Tokyo’s homegrown crafts, known as edo kiriko. You’ll find small edo kiriko sake cups and glasses in department stores, but of course, making your own is way more fun.
You can try your hand at Sumida Edo Kiriko Kan near Kinshicho, where you’ll design and then cut your own pattern in mere 90 minutes, leaving you with that rare thing: a souvenir you’ll actually use in the future.
¥4,320/person. 03 3623 4148. Three classes per day Mon-Sat, Sun & hols classes upon request. Reservations by phone or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ikebana flower arrangement represents the refined side of cute and it is steeped in tradition. However, it is also often seen as a virtually impenetrable Japanese art. Happily, the Sogetsu school of ikebana, founded in 1927 in central Tokyo, has a slightly more liberal and open approach than other schools.
Gone are the extremely rigid rules, with the emphasis being on your own creativity and ikebana as an art form. You can either follow a full-on course or simply take a trial session at the Aoyama headquarters.
¥4,100/person including materials. 03 3408 1209. English-language classes held every Mon except hols, 10am-12noon. Reservations through their online form or email email@example.com.
Derived from ‘purinto kurabu’ (literally ‘Print Club’, the photo booth brand that started this trend), purikura are a phenomenon in their own right: photobooth prints in which you can make yourself look infinitely cuter, creating an almost Japanese pop idol-esque version of yourself. The purikura fad may have faded a bit with the advent of filters on smartphone apps, but who wouldn’t want an actual, hard-copy photo of themself looking very kawaii?
You’ll find these booths at most large arcades, where a set of photos goes for ¥300 to ¥500. But if you want to experience the full range, head to Shibuya’s Purikura no Mecca. This famous spot has an extraordinary variety of these machines on offer.
Open 24h. Note that many purikura places, including this one, may not accept men-only groups or solo males to minimise the possible risk towards the often young female clientele.
A popular hangout for otaku (a geek obsessed with a particular aspect of popular culture), Akihabara’s Coco Color’s serves as a kind of community space for fellow nail art fanatics. The walls are covered with customers’ anime character drawings and anime music plays in the background. Through the years, this nail salon has amassed fans thanks to its perfect nail painting, usually of anime characters or idols. They accept requests and also offer 3D nail art. The price? It’s ¥1,100 for every 10 minutes, and it usually takes about three hours to paint five nails with anime characters.
Reservations essential; avoid last minute cancellation.
You can also seek out the hidden Nail Salon Pinky in Shibuya, where English-speaking owner Rie’s skilled and highly detailed works have attracted many overseas fans. Let her know what you like – your favourite anime, food or artists – and Rie will transform your nails into a work of art. However, since this is a private nail salon, you’ll only receive the exact location once your reservation is confirmed.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 11am-8pm.
Looking to go all the way for a Lolita (a fashion subculture influenced by Victorian and Edwardian clothing) transformation ? At Maison de Julietta, you can rent a full Lolita outfit, complete with hair and make-up, as well as a professional photo shoot in an Alice in Wonderland-themed studio. The best part is, you’ll also get to walk the streets of Harajuku in your Lolita getup for a specific time frame.
From ¥9,980 for a basic plan.
A hair salon in Harajuku popular amongst celebrities, Candye Syrup is known for its selection of unusual hair colours and styles. Take a seat in the saccharine- sweet interior and watch your hair being transformed with outrageously bright, saturated colours using the famed Manic Panic hair cream.
Hair colour treatment from ¥5,400.
For an equally atmospheric experience, head down south to Yokohama. This city was one of the epicentres of Japan’s modernisation efforts during the Meiji period but it still preserves much of the charm of the preceding era. You can rent a kimono (¥5,500) or the more casual hakama (¥9,000) at Yokohama Haikara Kimono-kan for your stroll around the historic town. Better yet, pick up a rickshaw in front of the venue for the perfect photo op.
Want to explore a classic Tokyo landmark and look the part at the same time? Before heading to Sensoji Temple, stop by Tokyo Kimono Rental Tansu-ya and get dressed up in a kimono. There’s a wide selection here, from the traditional to the modern, and a day’s rental starts from just ¥3,000. They can even store your belongings, so you can stroll around this historic part of town without any baggage in tow.
Yokohama Haikara Kimono-kan. 045 663 8108. 10am-6pm, closed Wed. Reservations essential.
Tokyo Kimono Rental Tansu-ya. 1-33-1 Asakusa Taito (Asakusa Station). 03 5828 5914. Daily 10am-6pm. Reservations essential.
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