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.