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CHAI, the Japanese Pop Group, redefines Japanese cute or kawaii

According to HuffPost, Mana, the Tokyo-based lead vocalist of the Japanese pop band CHAI, has a deep appreciation for all things colorful and cute.

She has an infectious enthusiasm, tempting one to describe her as “kawaii,” a Japanese term for “cute.” However, Mana and her bandmates aim to redefine “kawaii” with a more progressive version they call “neo-kawaii.”

The concept of “kawaii” originally symbolized innocence, purity, and hyper-feminine qualities in postwar Japan and became popular among the youth in the 1970s.

Over time, it infiltrated various aspects of Japanese culture, influencing fashion, cosmetics, and even food, primarily targeting women. However, Mana and CHAI seek to challenge and reinvent this concept.

CHAI’s music, with its feminist lyrics in English and Japanese, along with its bold fashion choices and lively pop vocals, embodies the essence of neo-kawaii. Their fourth album, released last month, reflects this philosophy, inviting women to embrace their empowered, self-assured selves.

Mana’s personal journey to self-love was shaped by the prevailing Eurocentric beauty standards in Asian cultures. In high school, she resorted to using eye-puchi, a liquid eyeliner glue, to create double eyelids, a key feature of the kawaii aesthetic. This practice, dating back to the late 1800s, remains a popular cosmetic procedure in Japan.

For Mana and her twin sister Kana, music and performance served as a refuge from societal beauty standards. Heavenly Recordings also highlighted how their bandmates, Yuuki and Yuna, who shared similar concerns about appearance, joined them in creating music that celebrated their unique beauty. Songs like Maybe Chocolate Chips from their album WINK reflect this ethos.

CHAI’s neo-kawaii message has resonated with Japanese fans, offering a refreshing perspective on societal attitudes towards women. Beyond Japan, their message has inspired fans worldwide, as they performed at Coachella, on NPR’s Tiny Desk, and embarked on international tours.

CHAI’s emphasis on fashion, along with its music, encourages women to express themselves authentically. By intentionally wearing bright pink outfits in their performances and music videos, they challenge traditional gender norms in fashion choices. Their song NEO KAWAII, K? from their latest album encourages listeners to embrace their innate authenticity.

Mana’s message to her fans is clear: Embrace your inner neo-kawaii from the moment you are born and conquer the world as your unique, authentic self.

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