In Western pop culture, it’s relatively easy to find examples of top celebrities wearing kigurumi. We live in the social media era, and all you really have to do is spend some time on Instagram or YouTube, and you can find examples of celebrities like Ariana Grande, Lily Allen or Miley Cyrus wearing cute, adorable animal onesies. But how many people know about some of the famous names from the world of Japanese kigurumi?
J-pop duo Kigurumi dressed as Tarakos, singing Tarako, Tarako, Tarako (source)
The starting point for many is simply the Japanese J-pop duo called Kigurumi. The group Kigurumi skyrocketed to fame in 2005 with their TV commercial for Tarako pasta sauce. The lyrics for the ad were just so impossible to get out of your head that it became the basis for the full-length song “Tarako Tarako Tarako,” in which the two very young girls of Kigurumi wear costumes and hats that are meant to represent bottles of Tarako sauce.
In fact, the original idea for Kigurumi was for group members to change their costumes regularly, based on the product they were promoting. In the Western context, it would be as if a TV commercial for red ketchup sauce had such an infectious jingle that it became a song you heard everywhere. On YouTube, it’s still possible to find original clips of “Tarako Tarako Tarako,” including the girls performing on-stage next to giant dolls. (Mind blown)
And, in the world of Japanese music, the one DJ most closely associated with kigurumi is DJ Minami Momochi. She is known for always performing in a kigurumi-style outfit. She was a huge fan of anime, and especially the theatrical art form known as animegao kigurumi, in which faces are completely covered by masks representing the face of the character, so her real appearance is still a mystery. As a result, one popular Google search for her is “Minami Momochi real face.” (If you ever find the real face of this famous DJ, let us know!)
Perhaps the best-known Japanese performer associated with kigurumi is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Her YouTube videos routinely rack up tens of millions of views, and the one song that became a Top 10 smash in Japan was “PON PON PON.” Her style combines various elements of Japanese youth culture, including kawaii (the “culture of cuteness”) and decora. Her YouTube videos are jaw-dropping – just check out the clips for “Candy Candy” or “Fashion Monster.” As a result, the Western media has called her the “Harajuku pop princess.” (Harajuku is a fashionable district in Tokyo for young trendsetters.)
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is one of the most recognizable J-pop performers that have crossed over to the UK. In 2014, in fact, VICE magazine sent a journalist out to one of her shows in London. What the journalist encountered was thousands of British music fans, many of them dressed in pink onesies and holding onto stuffed animal toys. The result of the experience was an article simply called, “Trying to Make Sense of British J-Pop Fans.” The best the author of the article could do was to compare Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to English pop star Lily Allen.
For many Westerners, the big crossover point for Japanese cultural exports involves famous characters from Japanese anime and manga – and big entertainment brands are noticing. The world of Pokémon (and especially the loveable Pikachu) is especially hot. And now the U.S. could be bracing for the full-on arrival of Rilakkuma in Spring 2019. That’s when Netflix plans to debut the series “Rilakkuma and Kaoru.” Rilakkuma, in case you didn’t know, is basically a plush, stuffed bear. (The name means “Relax Bear” in Japanese).
The “culture of cute” (kawaii) is a big business in Japan, and so it’s no surprise that the ideas for new kigurumi continue to appear on a regular basis. (At one company, San-X, employees are supposed to come up with an idea for one new cute character every month!)
To keep up with what’s happening in the world of Japanese kigurumi, one good place to go is the official website of SAZAC, which is the creator of the world’s original, authentic kigurumi. The company recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in June 2016. On the website, you can check out some of the popular Japanese characters that are being transformed into kigurumi. We’re looking forward to seeing what new designs and ideas make their way to North America in 2019!