Japan is known for its unique fashion and various trends and subcultures like Lolita and Visual-Kei and Japanese companies have long realized the marketing prospects found within youth culture. The Japanese spend an average $97 billion annually on fashion (or 4% of the nation's total consumer expenditure) compared to the $385 million spent by Americans. Youth in Japan have a tremendous buying power that only grows each year and the capitalist system has not failed to notice. Since the rise in popularity of male musical groups in the 1990s, changing fashion, especially male fashion, has led to a dramatic shift in the buying practices of Japanese youth. Marketing influences the practices of the society, the demands of which in turn influences the types and focus of marketing. It is the wheelhouse of the capitalist machine that drives globalism, though it is particularly evident in Japan as demonstrated by their incredible consumer power in relation to the country's geographical and population size.
The government has taken note of this, using the Kawaii culture to market the country to others. Playing on the "culture of cute" has allowed the country to drive not only its internal economy but its global economic influence. Kawaii has become a political brand, creating something that had never been used in such a way before. By playing on Western oriental fetishes and their own sense of exceptionalism, they have been able to position themselves as a global player while driving an internal economy that is powerful, if unsupportable. Given their drastic reduction in birth rates, it seems as though they may have essentially shot themselves in the foot by pushing a childlike view of life and fear of adulthood that borders on the pathological (Lewis, 2015).
The "problem" according to the Japanese government comes when the patriarchal gender norms pushed since the end of WWII are no longer welcomed and supported by the Japanese youth. With Kawaii culture, these sanctioned gender identities are still upheld and reinforced by maintaining that men are the providers and recipients of sexual gratification while women are infantilized and act as sexual providers and stress relievers for the good workers and citizens. However, emerging fashion trends have set this model on its head in that women are demanding sexual gratification from men through host clubs and the like. Granted, many have to turn to sex work themselves to make the money to afford their weekly trips to the clubs and some will argue that the whole system perpetuates the patriarchy, if subversively, it's still important to note that women are beginning to recognize the power of their sexual desire. It will be interesting to see how the capitalist economy responds to this new model, because it will. Unfortunately, freedom of individuality is still only a luxury provided to those who can afford to buy it.
Shannon Wu has a great path dedicated to various different lifestyle subcultures within Japan that gives better insight to this topic.
1. Iida, Yumiko. "Beyond the ‘Feminisation’ of Culture and Masculinity: The Crisis of Masculinity and Possibilities of the "Feminine" in Contemporary Japanese Youth Culture." (2004). http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.198.7844&rep=rep1&type=pdf
2. Lewis, Bryan. "'Cool Japan' and the Commodification of Cute: Selling Japanese National Identity and International Image." (2015). file:///C:/Users/sdb289/Desktop/School/Spring%20Semester/2017/JAPN%20482/Cool_Japan_and_the_Commodification_of_C.pdf