Kawaii Neko vs Grunge Neko
Kawaii Neko or Grunge Neko?
If you’re like most humans I’ve met in Second Life, seeing a Neko all dressed up in pink and surrounded by cuteness may seem a bit… odd. After all, we Neko are all about grunge, right? Torn shirts, ratty jeans, skulls, barbed wire and piercings… that’s the epitome of Neko culture, isn’t it?
Think again, my dear little human admirer. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in all my Neko ramblings and research, it’s this: not all Neko are created grunge. In fact we Neko owe our heritage to Japan, where the standard couture for a Nekomimi is a far cry from the grunge fashion that’s often associated with Neko in Second Life. Instead, it’s all about kawaii.
Japanese Neko are more often dressed up and characterized as kawaii (roughly translated as “cute”), with outfits featuring sweet little details like pink ribbons, lace trim, adorable trinkets and charming accessories. Yet the essence of “being kawaii” in Japan goes far beyond cute fashion…
Elements of kawaii can be found almost anywhere you look, from Japanese passenger jets, to postage stamps depicting anime characters, not to mention the more familiar Hello! Kitty that has made its way around the world.
The Roots of Kawaii
To better understand the contrast between grunge versus kawaii, it’s helpful to understand how the whole Kawaii thing came to be. While some say it was just a marketing scheme, or a reflection of Japanese anime/manga, most seem to think it began with something far more sweet and innocent: teenage girls in the 1970s who started writing in rounded, childish lettering decorated with cute little hearts and stars (in stark contrast to the more serious, vertical strokes of traditional Japanese writing).
Supposedly this “kawaii style” of writing became so popular, it sparked a national sensation that gradually found its way into advertising, product development, and media. (Remember “flower power” during the 1970s in the U.S.? Yeah, kinda like that).
However since then, “kawaii” has grown into a veritable Japanese cultural statement. You can find it just about everywhere — in kawaii mannerisms (such as the “peace” sign), food (check out the cookbook for Kawaii Bento Boxes if you don’t believe me), toys (Hello! Kitty was only the beginning), housewares (such as San-X’s adorable Rilakkuma bear set), entertainment (countless websites, games, TV shows and more), and fashion (Neko cosplay being just one facet of “dressing up kawaii”).
Today, the concept of kawaii has evolved so much, it’s considered by many to be a core element of Japan’s national identity. Tomoyuki Sugiyama, author of “Cool Japan,” claims that kawaii represents a much deeper attitude – inherently rooted in, and a direct reflection of, Japan’s harmony-loving culture.
Even the word “kawaii” represents so much more than “cute.” To the Japanese, it embodies a sense of innocence, purity, and kindness. It evokes images of vulnerability and timidity. It calls forth the feelings you might have for a sweet, adorable child, ranging from tenderness and affection, to protectiveness. Kinda like the reaction you feel when you see a poor little defenseless kitteh. Like, um… yeah… speaking of kittehs…
First Life Kawaii Meets Second Life Neko
The more I understood the underlying interpretation and culture associated with all things kawaii, the more I realized what a contrast this was to the “assertive, street-savvy, feral” (aka grunge) Neko that is so often associated with “being Neko” in SL. For the first time, I realized how strange we grungy Neko must look to the Japanese Neko of Second Life.
Now I’m not saying grunge isn’t fun, and I’m not saying there aren’t hundreds of happily grungy Neko. And I know Japanese Neko are only one faction of Neko in Second Life. But if Billy jumped off over a grungy cliff, I wouldn’t jump off after him without at least looking over the edge first…
Because for me, the grunge look just felt limited. And I didn’t wanna dress up like every fashionista on the grid and simply slap on ears and a tail. I wanted more. I just didn’t know quite what I wanted…
Besides, how’s a young kitten to know? During the first weeks of being a Neko in Second Life, wandering around Neko stores, trying to figure out Neko fashion, what do most of us find? A preponderance of grunge fashion in Neko-branded stores. In fact some stores call their grunge styles “neko styles,” as though Neko = grunge. No wonder so many Neko in SL start out by dressing up grunge.
The Evolution of Grunge Neko
So I set out to figure out how this whole Neko = grunge notion got started, hoping that it might open up the door to some fashion alternatives. I talked to a whole lotta Neko — creators/store owners, blog readers, and Neko who loved (lived?) to shop. The Second Life Neko research study was already underway, with countless in-person interviews generating all sorts of data, including fashion preferences. Meanwhile comments were pouring in over on the Second Life Neko Community forum. Gradually, three grunge theories emerged:
Theory #1: the grungy Neko look got its start in roleplay sims, where characters needed to be more prepared for street fighting, prompting a more assertive look to SL Neko fashion.
Theory #2: the grunge look started out with humans who were drawn to grunge fashion to begin with, but through grunge they discovered Neko, and eventually transformed into a Neko after the fact.
Theory #3: grunge Neko style is a reflection of feral cat populations in urban areas — running wild on the streets, hiding behind dumpsters, living in run-down buildings — the “messy alley cat look” style.
All during this time, I continued to dig into our Neko history. The more I traced our Neko roots back to Japan, and the more input I received from Neko like Kyllie Wylie and other Japanese blog readers, the more I realized: grunge was not the original standard for Neko fashion. In fact it was a relatively new evolution, seen primarily in Second Life.
Be All the Colors You Can Be
The point of all my rambling is this: we Neko are not defined or limited by grunge fashion. In fact if you’re like me and a great number of the Neko in the Second Life Neko Community forum, we believe that Neko is who you are — notwithstanding (and not dictated by) ANY particular fashion (pre)conceptions.
Since everything in life — cultures, trends, fashion, and people — is subject to evolution, and SL time seems to move faster than RL time (philosophically speaking), it stands to reason that a culture (Neko) and its original fashion (kawaii) could be experiencing some interesting evolution. Fellow Neko Kulta Hannu summarizes it nicely:
“Japan is a culture with one foot cemented in tradition [while] alternatively ALWAYS looking for the newest trend in fashion. The ONLY place where RL is faster than SL is on the streets of Harajuku [home to Japanese cosplay]. The hybridization of Neko in SL is a continuous cross pollination between East and West through multiple media — street fashion magazines, blogs, music, games, and manga.“
Here’s to all of us finding our “inner Neko,” and feeling united as fellow Neko, no matter whether we prefer grunge, urban casual, kimono or kawaii.
Kawaii Nekomimi Outfit du Jour:
| Eyes | Ephemeral: Neko Eyes, magenta fire color, with brighter whites
| Hair | ElectroKitty: Kimini in raphaela white (self-tinted to add pink): darn… this hair was no longer in the shop when I came to grab the slurl… sorry kittehs!
| Ears and Tail | SassyKitty: CupCake in White and Pink (tail is hand-attached to left pec)
| Neck Bow | AMH/AnnaMayaHouse: Little Bow of Cute in Pink
| T-shirt, under | AYY: Cuteness Collection #1 Anime t-shirts
| Tank top, over | Momo: Bunny Minidress (top only) in bubble gum (not to be confused with the other store “Lo*Momo”)
| Upper Arm Wraps | Moloko: Checker Armwrap
| Armwarmers | LouLou&Co.: Armwarmer KittyCat in White
| Backpack | AMH/AnnaMayaHouse: Snail Mail backpack (Anya Yalin’s done it again… click here to see more close-up photos of this magnificent backpack)
| Belt | Moloko: Checker Belt small (hand-edited to attach to my stomach)
| Skirt | GC/Gigi Couture: Ruffly Jeans Skirt
| Thigh-High Socks | n*cotton: Gift pants and socks: dot style (FREE)
| Legwarmers | Moloko: Legwarmer Pink
| Shoes | Zanzo: Hello! Kitty Chunkies
Explore a Very Kawaii Sim (even if made for elves): Vanima Nore
Buy Your Very Own Swinging Moon Bed from Fae Faire:
Can’t Get Enough Kawaii? Here’s More…
Second Life Photography by Bobby Yoshikawa <3***
© Stacia Villota / Virtual Neko in Second Life – 2009