Thoughts on Rilakkuma

Rilakkuma-Forest-GifIn the course of my Japanese studies, which tend to be anything but conventional, I found myself learning about Rilakkuma, to my undying delight.

It was interesting learning about her from a native Japanese speaker, who told me that she is a kigurumi (nuigurumi = stuffed [lit. sewn] toy, amigurimi = knitted toy, kigurumi = worn toy). That is, she is a – well a suit. Her inside (nakami) is a secret (himitsu) that no one knows.

I quote the Japanese because I think it is interestingly different from the English-speaking way of looking at things. Rilakkuma is the kigurumi and she has a nakami (inside). Not “someone is dressed up as a cute bear”.

Nor do we suppose that this “someone” is necessarily a human. Rilakkuma’s little friend, Korilakkuma, is a bear who often dresses as a pink rabbit.

Now my point here is a slightly subtle one. Rilakkuma is considered the epitome of kawaii. One of the slogans surrounding her is “Happy life with Rilakkuma”. The fact that she is, in a sense, a “suit” does not in any way detract from this. The fact that we have no idea what is “inside” does not make her less kawaii, it makes her more kawaii.

The frequent sight of her other “outsides” being washed or dried is part of her unique attractiveness and of what has made her a runaway kawaii success in Japan.


I could be wrong, but I fancy the Western mind would find the fact that a cute bear is not what she seems fundamentally undermining to her cuteness. There would be a near-instant suspicion that the “inside” might not be cute.

The Japanese view, which to my mind is simply the natural view seems to be “happy and innocent unless proved otherwise”, where the current Western or “cynicisist” (or perhaps “neurotic” or “phobic”) approach to life sees everything as dangerous or fake unless proved innocent (and still pretty suspicious even then).

Well maybe that makes Western folks happy (though they don’t look very happy to me). But I know how I’d rather live.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Rilakkuma

  1. This raises an interesting question about what “identity” is. The Japanese mind accepts Rilakkuma (the wear-toy, the “suit”) as an identity and finds the “nakami” intriguing but secondary.

    The current Western mind sees the “nakami” as the only reality (a “person [or whatever] dressed up”). To the current Western mind the role is nothing and the supposed “individual” is everything. The eastern mind realizes that this apparent “individual” is much less clear-cut than it seems and that a great deal of what we are is role.

  2. I do not have anything profound to say at the moment, but thank you so much for telling us about Rilakkuma! How very wonderful and magical!

  3. This is very fascinating and I think this article sheds some light on the underlying principles at work here.

    The West regards people as “naked apes with clothes on” as the article says. Clothing is regarded as entirely incidental and that is why people are so happy to dress in a scruffy and absurd manner.

    The idea that wear-things are essential is at the root of the pre-Eclipse attitude to dress and, I think explains something of the very different Japanese attitude to “kigurumi” as evidenced by Rilakkuma.

  4. Thank you for this, Miss Shura. We are about to start a Lolita/Fashion section and this made me realize that this whole Rilakkuma discussion is something of a lead-in to that. The Japanese attitude to Rilakkuma hinges on the Japanese idea of clothes (which is really the normal traditional idea of clothes) whereas the goblin attitude to Lolita (that clothes mean nothing and it is all right – and indeed good – to be coarse and heart-ugly while wearing beautiful clothes) hinges on the current Western philosophy (or anti-philosophy) of clothes – i.e. that they mean nothing and are just bits of cloth draped on apes.

    A bit complicated, but I guess you know what I mean.

    Precure! Dolly Volley!

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