When Japanese designer Yuko Shimizu made her first tentative drawings of Hello Kitty back in the early ‘70s, it is doubtful she realised she was creating the precursive character of a movement that would alter Japanese society forever.


‘Kawaii’ is the culture of cuteness that began with the anthropomorphic cat-human, spawned multi-billion dollar franchises, and has taken over the world of toys, entertainment and film.

It is, however, just one of the plethora of Japanese cultural phenomena the world is obsessed by. We love Japanese design, for example, we watch the horrors, read the comics, worship the craftsmanship, and are devoted to the games. All of this, and more, is celebrated in the blockbuster exhibition Cool Japan, on show at the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam.

After achieving record attendances whilst on show at the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden last year, the exhibition has been revamped and brought to Amsterdam. The show now features the new centre-piece of a spectacular installation by renowned artist Sebastian Masuda; a kawaii dreamscape highlighting both the cute and uncomfortable side of the phenomenon.

However, as a child of the ‘90s, I know which part of the exhibition I would be making a beeline for – the games arcade.

To Messrs Yamauchi and Yokoi, I owe you so much. Their invention, the magnificent Game Boy, saved one small Midlands child from boredom on many an occasion; whiling away hours on the glorified calculator. At Cool Japan, relive your childhood, play Donkey Kong and Sailor Moon again, and succumb to a dangerous spiral of nostalgia: it will be worth it! A show that is fascinating for kids and adults alike, Cool Japan is on at Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam until 1 September 2019.

Matt Antoniak is a visual artist and writer living and working in Newcastle, UK. He works mainly in painting and drawing and is a founding member of the art collective M I L K.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’