Okay, I'm fairly advanced in my Japanese studies after having lived and taught in Japan for almost a year. However, one thing that continues to boggle me is the possibly most common word of all: かわいい。

I'm a 23 year-old young woman, and my elementary school students love calling me かわいい, most especially the girls. While I understand that the word can also mean "pretty" as well as "cute", being called this by a child makes me wonder if it's at all belittling? Maybe this is my English perception of "cute", but a child calling me that just seems like they're making me a child. Is there perhaps a different nuance to this word that I wasn't aware of?

2 Answers 2


I think かわいい doesn't have a negative nuance even if it is used for adults.

Not only Japanese elementary school students but also even Japanese adult women often use the word かわいい. Japanese people, especially women, say it to everything as a word of praise. They use it to things because of not only its superficial cuteness but also its interior cuteness and familiarity.


Your question may not belong on this site, as this is, I guess, focusing on the language, but: If you have been with the same kids for almost a year, I think you have the best ability to answer. かわいい is almost never negative, and I think elementary school girls could use the word for a pretty 先生 at least if she is a foreigner (this does not mean バカにする but rather already elementary school kids sense with who one can be less formal and with who not). Also, it could refer less to the appearance, and be a more general "statement of sympathy", e.g. in some situations when you are really trying your best to overcome the hurdles of not being Japanese. Also, general, you may be seen as a chance for the kids to be more natural when talking to their teachers; as the Japanese society is changing, and the "seniority rule" is decreasing, it could be that the schools are more hierarchical than the outside society, which the kids also observe, and they therefore give you sympathy for being different. (The hurdle of boys acting in the above way in elementary school is higher, so many may want to say かわいい but they fear of the reaction of their classmates.) 頑張って!

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