Monthly Archives: September 2010

Why do Japanese people make cute & small art pieces?

In the previous post, Teresa asked me some questions and I decided to turn the answer into a blog post. Thank you Teresa!

Q: what do you think or know is the reason why the japaneses (I don’t know if other places as well) have that obsession, or tendency, to do this craft work of small pieces, like small animals designs on drawings, anime, stuffed plushies, etc…

A:Japanese culture is based on a religion called Shinto, which people believe that every object has a little god living inside, even a grain of rice. So for example, if there is an umbrella left alone at a school, people will humanize the umbrella and empathize that it was left alone.
It is natural to treat an object as a living creature in Japanese culture.
Director Miyazaki from Ghibli studio says “good morning” as he opens all the windows in his studio in the morning. Because there are spirits living everywhere…!

There is something called “netsuke” which are miniature sculptures used as counterweights for objects suspended from a man’s sash from 17-19th centuries. (It’s like a keychain for a man-purse) They are miniature figures (often figures and animals) that is crafted beautifully out of stone or wood. People have always carried a small figurine as protection and I am sure that love for small objects is rooted in that belief.

This is totally a functional and logical answer, but Japan is a very small country and houses are very small. I was always surprised how American toys are so big and can be spread out. But none of those toys could have been popular in japan because nobody has the space. Hence little objects are popular.

To sum up the answer, it’s the combination of culture / religion and practical space.

Q:There were bad things on their history, wars and so on, so I think it probably comes from there, as some sort of way to express some feelings that were left behind during those times…

A: It’s obvious that there was a huge influence from wars especially World War II.
It is hard to ignore what happened and it was an extremely traumatizing experience as a country. However, there are many countries that have gone through multiple wars as well but do not have the same sensibility as Japanese culture. So again, I think it’s way deeper than just events from the 20th century but the history of cuteness and miniature craftsmanship will go back for many centuries.

Q:I also have known japanese families to be really strict, very good and wise people but they kind of have their sensitivity blocked, (that probably does come from all the wars and hard life they went through)so when I see this small cute crafting I think of that: a way to express sensitivity or feelings

A: When it comes to expressing their emotions, Japanese people tend to hold within. You’re not supposed to show your emotions.
It’s does not come from a negative influence but that attitude has been the culture for centuries. There are many sayings that you shouldn’t whine but just do it. Talking and expressing your feelings have never been considered to be the beauty. People who are disciplined, quite and calm who acted without announcing their motives have always been valued both for men and women.
So as you mentioned, art forms (writing, drawing, music… etc) are one of the ways to freely express your feelings without being conscious of behaving correctly.

Grandma Kiyoko

This is my mother’s side grandparents when they were young. (60-70 years ago…?)
My grandma loved sewing, stuffed animals, pop culture, organizing, saving stuff, and clothing.
Some people may use the exact words to summarize who I am. (Although I must say I am not as fashionable as my grandma)
That’s because grandma taught me everything I know now.
She passed away this morning. 91 years and 7 months! Bravo.
She truly was a funny person.

She loved being in my animations so she had appeared in “Something Left, Something Taken” and “Daikon Ashi”. The image on the right is a stuffed portrait I made for her.