Fashion trends are often short and sweet, with styles coming and going faster than society can keep up with them; and within this quickly developing industry Japan stands out from the crowd. The reputation Japan has gathered in the fashion industry is one of non-convention and abstract expressionism hugely due to the emerging counterculture from the youth of Japan. With each new generation comes a new mindset, and within the last few months we have seen a rise in a style named 'Yami Kawaii.'

What is 'Yami Kawaii?'

'Yami Kawaii' can be translated into English as 'sick-cute' where the focus on the aesthetic revolves around a cute and lighthearted take on mental health issues, depression, and illness.

'Yami Kawaii' is a contrast to the extremely popular 'Kawaii' trend which is cute and innocent in appearance. 'Yami Kawaii' set itself apart by making the cute aspect of it focused on the taboo parts of illness and depression.


Countercultures are a constant occurrence in society as generations move towards different goals and mindsets. Japan is notorious for having a developed an extremely diverse counterculture due to the strict nature of their heritage and old ideologies. The youth of Japan has taken to be as different as they possibly can from their forefathers and see their new-wave styles as a sign of rebellion from the past.

This is where 'Yami Kawaii' comes in. It seemingly wasn't enough for the country's youth to be aesthetically diverse with colors alone, but now the topic and theme as well.

'Yami Kawaii' can be seen as a form of extreme expressionism, where the individual is outwardly projecting their mental health onto the clothes they wear. This isn't uncommon, as many people find this to be a good way to connect with others. Yet this new approach to it is causing some backlash from society.

The issues

The new style of 'Yami Kawaii' is still emerging into the mainstream, but due to its connection with the popular 'Kawaii' style, it is gathering many new followers who are converting from the simple 'cute' to 'sick-cute.' But when we look at the depressive and negative aspect of the style, we have to ask the question as to whether the expressionism that comes from outwardly telling the world you're depressed (and fine with it) is helping, or whether it leads you deeper down the rabbit hole.

It is a dangerous combination to accessorize and personalize depression as people may start seeing it as something to aspire to achieve, as a goal. 'Yami Kawaii' could be seen as a competition for some who wish to impress with their image by making themselves sicker in order to appeal to more people; making them an idol in the eyes of 'Yami Kawaii' fans.

Depression expression

'Yami Kawaii' isn't necessarily about being happy you're depressed, rather you feel empowerment and enjoyment from accepting your mental health (regardless of if its good or not) and being open about the topic. The expressionism comes through with the visual aspect of 'Yami Kawaii.'

Large importance is placed on the contrast between color and language. A common style would be a light pastel colored shirt, but with a depressing phrase or image on the front; or perhaps a phone case with cute symbols on, but under close inspection, the symbols are pictures of pills, syringes, razor blades, and blood drops.

Japan's youth are attaching themselves to this new style for their own personal reasons, which is why it becomes hard to distinguish the positives from the negatives.

Some are seeking solitude in style, others see it as a way of life. Some call it no more than a statement, and others see it as an empowering tool for them. All of these reasons are just as valid as the last, but it is a question of whether the person involved can differentiate their identity from the style, or whether the style is making their identity.