Money is cute in Japan

“Cute” is probably one of the most used adjectives in Japan. Cute things are well accepted by all generation. Even high school girls often describe an elderly man as cute. Cute is everywhere; in products, food, electric money, etc.

I had my first credit card when I was in the early twenties. It was issued by a bank in Japan, and it was pink with a cute illustration. It also says “ladies” at somewhere in front. I didn’t really need it at that time because I paid everything by cash or pre-authorized payment through the bank. If I didn’t have enough cash or balance in the bank for a full amount of what I wanted, I simply waited till I had enough cash. I even forgot what I wanted after a while. Life was simpler in those days.

I applied for the card just because I was going to visit my sister then living in California. I was told that it would be easier especially if I wanted to rent a car. I ended up paying almost everything by that credit card during the trip, and I realized that a cute pink credit card was not common in North America. Almost every cashier commented on my credit card. “Oh, it’s pink!”, “It’s so cute. Where did you get this?”, “Is this real thing?”, etc. Now I only have Canadian cards with boring design, but don’t care much and they are just working fine.

Waon Card
Now in Japan, there is electric money called Waon. “Waon” is a sort of Japanese onomatopoeia that sounds like a dog barking softly (sort of). I mean a cute dog. Waon is not a credit card, but a prepaid card you can use at major retail stores, hotels, and restaurants. You can load maximum $300 at a time which is about the same amount of cash people normally carry in Japan. I can live with 20 bucks or often $0 cash in my wallet in Canada, but in Japan, there are many stores and public offices don’t accept credit cards.

The advantages to users are they can collect points and receive a special promotion. It doesn’t seem much, but they can use their mobile phone to pay, there are so many cute card designs to choose from, and the machine barks “waon” when a transaction is done. Waon even has a whole series of products using its dog character. You mustn’t make light of those products just because it sounds like a promotion driven by an advertising agency. People buy them because they are so cute!

Waon Products

Branding and design for Waon were done by Japanese creative agency DRAFT.

Cute extends to cappuccino, too. Osaka-based coffee artist Kazuki Yamamoto can draw anything from Hello Kitty to Pope Benedict XVI.

Latte Art - Hello Kitty