The word kawaii has a long history. It dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185), the Golden Age of Japan. It’s said to have originated from the archaic word kaohayushi (顔映し), which described a face flushed red from embarrassment or guilt.
As the pronunciation of “kaohayushi” became kawayushi (かわゆし), its meaning changed, too. “Kawayushi” became a different word altogether, standing for a plethora of things: embarrassing, pitiable, vulnerable, small, cute, and lovable. The word eventually morphed into “kawaii,” with its present-day connotations of “cute” and “lovable” originating from the Muromachi Period (1336-1573).
Today, “kawaii” is commonly written in hiragana — all-Japanese characters — as かわいい, or in a combination of kanji (Chinese characters) and hiragana: 可愛い. It’s worth noting that those kanji characters also mean “cute” or “lovable” in Chinese; they literally mean “can be loved.” *courtesy of voyagin.com*
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