ISSA Proceedings 2010 – Foreign Words As Argumentative Devices: Japanese Words In French Newspapers

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1. Issues
What is the argumentative intention of using Japanese words in foreign contexts? Prior to the 1990s, traditional Japanese words known in France consisted of geisha, samouraï, sushi, etc. In the 1990s, when Japanese popular culture such as mangas, extravagant street fashions, and video games, was imported to France and other countries, the term kawaii started to appear in French media. In our paper, which focuses on the traditional Japanese word geisha and the recently appearing Japanese word kawaii and classifies the two words as xenism or peregrinism, we examine the argumentative functions used in contemporary French national newspapers Le Figaro (conservator), Libération (left), and Le Monde (centre-left), published from 1995 to 2008.[i] How is each word used as an argumentative device? Are there differences in the argumentative functions of the two words? Or are these functions similar?

2. The Foreign Words Geisha and Kawaii in French Context
72 Japanese words appear in the French Dictionary CD-ROM of Le Petit Robert 2008, of which 69 words are nouns and 3 words are nouns and adjectives: nippon, zen, and kamikaze. Geisha appears in this dictionary, but kawaii does not.

The French dictionary Le Robert dictionnaire historique de la langue française indicates that the term geisha was ‘firstly Gallicised as guecha (1887) [in the novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti], and it was rewritten as geisha (1889) according to the transliteration of the Japanese word.’ The term geisha is traditionally known in France; Geisha means ‘Japanese singer and dancer who is rented for certain meetings and amuses the men with her conversation, her music, and her dance.’

We must also explore how geisha is used in France today. For example, the book Idées reçues: Le Japon (Fixed ideas: Japan) indicates that ‘a woman is submissive to men and to her husband,’ which is one of the famous fixed ideas regarding Japan. Japon des Japonais (Japan of the Japanese) also shows that ‘the Japanese woman makes one part of our phantasm to the Orient. To oriental women’s sensuality, she (Japanese woman) adds a little submission to the desire of a man (Pons & Souyri. 2002, pp. 69-70). Japanese women have often been described as the embodiment of the “Orient as phantasm,” the most famous representative of which is the geisha.

According to the second Japanese-French dictionary, Petit Royal (Oubunsha), the term kawaii is translated as mignon (cute), gentil (kind), adorable (adorable), and joli (beautiful). This adjective is considered a key word that represents Japanese popular culture. According to the sixth edition of Kojien, The Dictionary of the Japanese Language, the definition of kawaii is ‘pitiful, poor; must love, feel deep affection; small and beautiful.’ Recently, the utilisation of kawaii is frequent in Japanese women’s magazines to appreciate the “immature” or the childish, describing in particular decorative taste, which is one of the two principal aesthetics in Japan, the other being minimalism. In a contemporary Japanese context, this term is primarily reserved for girls, who are considered weak in a macho society, to qualify any object without distinction (from any fashion style to emperor behaviour) (Koga 2009, pp. 202-215; Yomota 2006, p.10).

The terms geisha and kawaii are foreign words that are used as xenism and peregrinism. According to Dictionnaire de linguistique,
The distinctions between a xenism and a peregrinism allow us to take into account the usage of certain words: a xenism is a foreign word mentioned with reference to a linguistic code of origin and to foreign realities. A peregrinism reflects foreign realities, but its meaning is understood by the interlocutor,[ii] (Debois, Mathée, Gespin, Marcellesi, Marcellesi & Mével, 2001, p. 512)[iii]

Thus, we will examine how the terms geisha and kawaii as xenism and peregrinism are used as argumentative devices in our corpus.

3. Argumentative Functions of Xenism and Peregrinism
As our hypothesis, there are three types of argumentation concerning the usage of foreign words. The first is persuasion concerning the construction of meaning of a loaned neologism; the second, construction of the effect of reality for a text in which the foreign word is used; and third, construction of connivance, in particular, of derision.

3.1. Argumentation via Xenism: Construction of the Meaning of a Loaned Neologism with a Gloss or Definition
As we mentioned, a xenism is used with its gloss or definition. Using a xenism signifies that the gloss of xenism will be a translation or an explanation. For the interlocutor, this term is not yet familiar; he/she has not yet acquired common knowledge concerning this subject. But does this gloss – a translation or an explanation – objectively reflect its actual definition? Could a definition be manipulated not to present the word objectively?

A definition, according to Philippe Breton, could be considered an argumentation of framework; the meaning of the new reference is constructed through some argumentation devices such as “framework” – a description emphasising one side, underestimating the other side. He also says that this manipulation is realised through an authority, which can be a “specialist,” someone with “experience,” or a “witness” as an author’s ethos (Breton 1996, pp.44-45).

On the one hand, since xenism permits the speaker to construct his ethos, his self-image as a specialist in current Japanese culture shows his individual and subjective judgment on this xenism through the gloss. The gloss, or ‘translation, which is presented as pure explanation, does in reality give only one biased idea of [the] sense of the word in the loaned language’ (Steuckardt and Honoré 2006, p. 3). That is, the gloss would permit one to construct a subjective idea as objective.

This type of argumentation is realised when a foreign word appears with its gloss, a subjective definition, as a xenism. In our corpus, we could not find the xenism of geisha, which is in the company of its gloss because, for over 100 years since the first apparition of this term in a French context, it has become traditionally popular; it is not necessary to use a translation or an explanation. So, the argumentation of framework by means of a definition must occur immediately after a new word appears.

3.2. Kawaii as xenism: Gloss in apposition and implicit judgment
The term kawaii qualifies objects related to Japanese culture with a gloss in apposition, which is a definition or a “literal” translation. The gloss[iv] most commonly used for this term is mignon (“cute,” “sweet,” or “kind” in English).
(1) “An incarnation of the kawaii (mignon) culture and a cure for loneliness, dogs number 13 million in Japan today”
(Incarnation de la culture kawaii (mignon) et remède contre la solitude, les chiens sont aujourd’hui 13 millions au Japon.)
(Le Figaro Magazine, 03/24/2007).

(2) This Japanese [Takashi Murakami], who conquers contemporary art with his pop art mixed with Nippon naivety, presents to Paris a panorama of Japanese youth, a happy hodgepodge where the taste known as kawaii (mignon in Japanese) predominates (Ce Japonais [Takashi Murakami], qui a conquis l’art contemporain avec son pop-art mâtiné de naïveté nippone, présente à Paris un panorama de la jeune création japonaise, joyeux fourre-tout où prédomine le goût prononcé pour le kawaii (mignon, en japonais).
(Libération, 07/04/2002).

Here, each object that the term kawaii qualifies is related to Japan, such as dogs in Japan (1) and the popular art of Takashi Murakami (2). That is, the term qualifies the adorable domestic animals or popular culture. Used in this way, kawaii designates things that are not concerned with small animals or popular culture. It appears from these examples that such a gloss is a literal translation, but this is not always the case:

(3) In spite of the coldness and rain, Roppongi Hills, the chic district of Tokyo, had its big opening night party. The two stars of the film, Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire, were welcomed by « kawaii » (trop (very) mignon in Japanese) by hundreds of fans. (MALGRÉ le froid et la pluie, Roppongi Hills, le quartier chic de Tokyo, avait son air des grands soirs de fête. (…)Les deux stars du film, Kirsten Dunst en tenue évanescente en chiffon rose et Tobey Maguire, ont été accueillies par des « kawaii » (« trop mignon » en japonais) par des centaines de fans)

(Le Figaro, Le Figaro Économie, 4/17/2007).

(4) The cosplayers must know the characters that they interpret well (their attitudes,their gestures, etc.), so they must have read [the manga’s] “biography” (…) he must be able to integrate some Japanese terms into his vocabulary. Examples: gomen, which signifies “pardon”; kawaii, which signifies “mignon, adorable”[…].
(Le cosplayeur doit bien connaître le personnage qu’il interprète (son attitude, ses gestes), donc il doit avoir lu sa « biographie » (les mangas).[…] il doit pouvoir intégrer quelques termes japonais à son vocabulaire. Exemples : gomen qui signifie « pardon, désolé », kawaii qui veut dire « mignon, adorable » […].)
(Le Figaro, 02/28/2007).

(5) […] an illustrator working in Japan, she knows how to mix kowai and kawaii, horror and feebleness.
([…] une illustratrice travaillant au Japon, elle sait mêler kowai et kawaii, horreur et mièvrerie)
(Libération, 02/13/2008).

In extract (3), kawaii and its gloss describe the reaction of Japanese supporters of a foreign actress visiting in Japan. In extract (4), kawaii is introduced as a Japanese word qualifying the “cosplay” of manga characters. In extract (5), it is used as one of the characteristics of Japanese animations, of which the other is “horror.” Concerning the gloss, the translation mignon is accompanied by the adverb expressing the excessive quantities trop (“too much” in English) or très (“very” in English) as the familiar language in extract (4) or by the adjective “adorable” in extract (5). Kawaii is also translated as mièvrerie (“feebleness” in English), a substantive with a negative nuance. The first 2 glosses have positive connotations, but the last one has a negative connotation. Thus, the gloss is not a literal translation but a mark of the subjective judgment of the locutor.

3.3. Xenisme kawaii bringing explicit comments in the form of definition
Sometimes, not only is the gloss apposition attached to the term kawaii, but also a certain subjective explanation/interpretation of the locutor. We will look at some examples.

(6) The violence is certainly one of the characteristics of Japanese cartoons and video games. Pokemon belongs to another vein: the cult of kawaii, which is “mignon”. The word which signifies a little sickly sentiment of affection which aroused a child or a small animal became, as like “cute” in Anglo-American, the password of the imaginary world of Nippon youth.
(La violence est certes l’une des caractéristiques de l’univers de la bande dessinée et des jeux vidéo japonais. Les Pokémon relèvent d’une autre veine : le culte du kawaii,  qui est ” mignon “. Le mot qui signifie le sentiment d’affection un peu mièvre que suscite un enfant ou un petit animal est devenu, comme ” cute ” en anglo-américain, le mot de passe du monde imaginaire de la jeunesse nippone.)
(Le Monde, 12/17/1999).

The gloss first cites a translation of the term mignon. A further explanation is as follows: “the sentiment of affection aroused by a little sickly child or a small animal” and “the password of the imaginary world of the Nippon youth.” The objects that this term qualifies delimit this word, defined with regard to children or small animals.

(7) His [Takashi Murakami’s] work borrows especially from the aesthetics of Manga and the culture of kawaii (in other words, mignon). He plays on two perverted and reassuring tensions. Following the example of Walt Disney, he invents his own characters, such as Mr. Dob, a kind of Mickey Mouse, who is sometimes ferocious and ironic, and sometimes sickly.
(Son [Takashi Murakami] œuvre emprunte surtout à l’esthétique du manga et à la culture du kawaii (autrement dit ce qui est mignon). Il joue de fait sur deux tensions, perverse et rassurante. A l’instar de Walt Disney, il invente ses propres personnages, comme Mr. Dob, une sorte de Mickey tantôt féroce et ironique, tantôt mièvre.)
(Le Monde, 10/23/2006).

(8) KAWAII. The expression kawaii which signifies mignon in Japanese, and is borrowed from the exposition of Takashi Murakami at the Cartier Foundation, has become the gimmick (…), which also appreciates all the acid and false manga’s ingenuous aesthetic.
(KAWAII. L’expression kawaii qui signifie mignon en japonais, empruntée à l’exposition de Takashi Murakami à la Fondation Cartier, est devenue le gimmick des modeux qui apprécient aussi toute l’esthétique acidulée et faussement ingénue des mangas.)
(Le Figaroscope,10/23/2002).

In the extract (7), with the gloss mignon (cute in English), the culture of kawaii is presented as one of the sources of imagination for Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. In this extract (8), the term kawaii is explained by means of the signification mignon and by its origin in the exposition of Takashi Murakami. The signification “the acid aesthetic and false ingenuous of manga,”, which is far from the sense of kawaii diffused in Japan, is added to the adjective kawaii.

(9) He [Matsumoto] mixes the perverted cute of kawaii with his habitual ruffled character, the costumes of an eclectic folklore, and the idempotent architecture.
(Il [Matsumoto] mélange le mignon pervers du kawaii avec son trait hérissé habituel, les costumes d’un folklore éclectique et l’architecture idem.)
(Libération, 08/20/2004).

(10) There was Takashi Murakami, whom gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin discovered in France. Very quickly, this artist, coming from manga art, created a group titled Kaikai Kiki. The artists have in common recourse to the long Japanese tradition related to the contemporary phantasmagoria influenced by video games, science fiction, or the observation of Japanese society. It is also called the “Kawaii movement”
(il y a eu Takashi Murakami que le galeriste Emmanuel Perrotin fit découvrir en France. Très vite cet artiste, venu de l’art manga, créa un groupe intitulé Kaikai Kiki. [Les] artistes ont en commun le recours à la grande tradition japonaise liée à une fantasmagorie contemporaine influencée par les jeux vidéo, la science-fiction ou l’observation de la société japonaise. Ce que l’on appelle aussi le mouvement Kawaii.)
(Le Figaro, Le Figaroscope, 05/21/2008).

Kawaii qualifies a Japanese manga, but signifies “mignon-pervers” (cute pervert) in extract (9). In extract (10), this term is used to designate the activity of a popular artist like Takashi Murakami. Here, the signification of this term is far from the way that kawaii is used in Japan.

The xenism kawaii elaborates two ideas about Japanese contemporary popular culture. On the one hand, it is described pejoratively in terms of its cuteness, adorableness, and feebleness, and on the other hand, it is described in terms of its perversity, irony, and fierceness.

The embodiment of two ideas for one xenism, kawaii could confirm that the choice of these glosses is not objective. Furthermore, the second idea for kawaii does not exist in Japan. In spite of these facts, the translation or explanation of the term kawaii is not presented as a subjective interpretation, but as a definition or literal translation.

4. Xenism and Peregrinism : Construction of Effect of Reality and Connivance
Xenism and peregrinism construct the “effect of reality – effet de réel” (Magri, 1995, p. 79) as argumentative devices. Thus, here xenism and peregrinism are used to construct a kind of “Japaneseness” as an effect of reality. The xenisms permit readers to persuade themselves that “this text concerns the real Japan” thanks to the gloss or the explanation. But how does the usage of peregrinisms realise this persuasion?

Using a peregrinism signifies that the meaning of this word has already penetrated into the common knowledge of the society that uses this term. A Peregrinism is one of the forms of implicit. The implicit is an argumentative device[v] (Amossy 2000, pp.151-153; Ducrot 1972, p.12).

When such a peregrinism qualifies objects with which it is not logically associated,[vi] “indirect, scattered, or incomplete” (Amossy & Herschberg Pierrot 1997, p.73) data from which an abstract, reductive schema, and stereotype are constructed are interpreted by the reader through his social shared knowledge.

4.1. The term kawaii as a peregrinism
When used as a peregrinism, the term kawaii could not be found in Le Monde, but it minimally appeared in June 2008 in Le Figaro and in 2004 in Libération.

(11) (…) two girls of 25 years old, dressed in black in Victorian fashion, wearing platform shoes of at least ten centimetres in height, and proclaiming everywhere that they love Dragon Ball Z […], it’s simply “too much kawaii “.
([…] deux filles de 25 ans, vêtues de noir à la mode victorienne, vissées sur des platform shoes d’au moins dix centimètres de haut, qui clament partout que si elles adorent Dragon Ball Z  […], c’est simplement «trop kawaii»)
( Libération, 05/29 /2006).

The word kawaii started to be used without a gloss to designate French women’s costumed as characters of Japanese animations or as “gothic Lolitas.”[vii] The locutor presupposed thus that the interlocutors knew the significance of the term kawaii in the context of Japanese youth culture, so this foreign word would already have penetrated into the culture of interlocutors.

(12)   TSUMORI CHISATO (…) recognised the queen of the kawaii motifs.
(TSUMORI CHISATO. (…) reconnaît la reine des motifs kawaii.)
(Le Figaro, 06/30 /2008).

With neither inverted comment nor gloss, the term kawaii is not used to designate the features of popular culture such as manga or the gothic Lolita, but to designate the features of the creations of a Japanese fashion designer. The locutor presupposes thus that the interlocutor knows what kawaii is. Each term implicitly designates the literal meaning kawaii in any way to construct a kind of connivance between the locutor and the reader. But the effects of reality created by the terms kawaii and geisha are not the same. The term geisha is also used to construct connivance through its synecdochical meanings.

4.2. The term geisha as peregrinism.
In French newspapers, the term geisha is not used to designate the real geisha herself but to construct connivance between the locutor and the readers as a synecdoche or a metaphor.

Geisha = epithet noun denoting “Japanese”
The term geisha is synecdochically used as an adjective instead of the word Japanese. In this stage, it would be possible that the term geisha could implicitly include the sense of submission according to the context; therefore, it could be used as a peregrinism.

First, a critical article “Japonaiseries” about the novel Metaphysique des tubes, the Belgian writer Amelie Nothomb‘s autobiography, will be examined:

(13) While reading this insipid “prêchi-geisha,” we deplore that a final original subject is treated in such a disappointing way
(En lisant ce prêchi-geisha insipide, on déplore qu’un sujet somme toute original ait été traité d’une façon si décevante)
(Le Figaro, Le Figaro Littéraire 08/31/2000).

The French expression Prechi-precha signifies “moralising discourse.” For example, it is used in the following way: “He bothers us with his Prechiprecha (moralising discourse).” The expression prechi-geisha is a pun of Prechi-precha. As a matter of fact, this book is not about geishas. In this context, the term geisha could be considered as denoting “Japanese” or “in the Japanese style.” The expression prechi-geisha could signify “discourse in the Japanese style” or “discourse about Japan.” The adjective “insipid” that is, “dry and dull,” evokes the idea that this expression would be used negatively, for example, as discourse by the writer who repeats the same clichés about Japan.

Geisha=traditional Japan
The following three examples are going to be analysed:

(14) Pronuptia (the name of shop) visits the geisha again. […the shop proposes] “japanizing” style in origami named kabuki, chizuko, shogun, or Yokohama
(Pronuptia revisite la geisha […le boutique propose] des silhouettes japonisantes en origami baptisées Kabuki, Chizuko, Shogun ou Yokohama.)
(Le Figaro 06/09/2005).

(15) In addition, we find the geisha corner with its ancient furniture; it’s practically impossible to find a named tansu, or this bath for girls of the last century”
(Ailleurs, on trouve le coin Geisha, avec ses meubles anciens, quasiment introuvables et baptisés Tansu, ou cette baignoire de fille du siècle dernier.)
(Le Figaro 02/10/2005).

In the two examples above, the term geisha is used synecdochically: in the extract (14), it refers to “japanizing style”; furthermore, in the extract (15) the “geisha corner” refers to the corner in which some Japanese traditional furniture is sold (of course, tansu isn’t exclusive only to a geisha’s room, but also to all Japanese). These examples show that the term geisha is such a plausible Japanese word that it can easily evoke the best things related to Japan.

Geisha = “Japanese women”

The term geisha is synecdochically used to designate “Japanese women,” which is expressed in the following two examples.

(16) When Raymond Guerlain offers to a Tokyoite geisha a bottle of Blue Time in 1962, we are amused to read about the embarrassment on the young woman’s face, the symbol of a person who doesn’t wear perfume.
(Lorsque Raymond Guerlain offre à une geisha tokyoïte en 1962 un flacon d’Heure Bleue, on est amusé de lire l’embarras sur le visage de la jeune fille, emblème d’un peuple qui ne se parfume pas.)
(Le Figaro 05/11/2000).

(17) Two brands have invented the new age perfume for geishas again. The perfume is consumed by the Japanese with the greatest discretion
(Deux marques réinventent le parfum pour les geishas New Age. Le parfum est consommé par les Japonaises avec la plus extrême discrétion.)
(Le Monde 05/24/2000).

These articles were published almost at the same time and described perfume for Japanese women. In these examples, the statement could refer to “the young woman” in (16) and to “the Japanese women” in (17). But in the first example, it is ambiguous to decide what the reference of the term geisha is: “a real geisha” or the “young woman.” It depends on the reader’s interpretation. In any event, the fact that the term geisha is implicitly used as an epithet noun denoting traditional “Japanese women” shows that this term could be an argumentative device in a triple sense:
I. The term geisha, one of the most famous Japanese words in foreign countries, is used in contexts unrelated to the geisha to construct a kind of Japaneseness, that is, an effect of realism in the text.
II. Using this term as peregrinism without gloss presupposes that the readers already know it, and this term constructs the connivance between locutor and reader.
III. Using this term with synecdochical signification would not construct simple connivance but one of derision between the locutor and the reader, produced by a humorous act. As Patrick Charaudeau said:

Humorous acts participate in various discursive strategies that dispose a speaking subject to try, in a particular communication situation, to seduce the interlocutor or the audience in producing the effects of several connivances…The connivance of derision tries to make share the insignificance of the target. The derision aims to disqualify the target and lower it. (Charaudeau2006, p.37, p.39)

Could we not say that geisha, which is a stereotyped symbol of phantasm in Japanese woman, is used as synecdoche for  Japan, Japanese, or Japanese women and constructs the connivance of derision to permit the reader to adhere to this text?

5. Conclusion
As we examined, the Japanese words kawaii and geisha used in French contemporary medias are used as argumentative devices such as the construction of meaning, effect of the reality, and, in particular, the construction of derision. What’s more, we could add another argumentative function: reinforcing a stereotyped image of Japan.

As we mentioned, Pierre Loti first introduced the term geisha in his book Madame Chrysanthemum. He wrote, ‘I exploit really the adjective petit (small), mièvre (small, vapid), mignard (cute pejoratively used) – (…) the physical and moral aspects of Japan are completely explained in these three words.”

In our time, more than 100 years after the publication of this book, thanks to the development of information techniques, the distance between Japan and occidental countries such as France has narrowed. But even now, as Brian Moeran discusses about images of Japan presented in British advertisements, Japanese people are often represented as children, women, or incomprehensible (1996, pp. 77-112). The adjective “cute” (pejoratively used, “mignard” in French) that Pierre Loti used to qualify Japanese women and guesha reappears today in the form of the term kawaii, a Japanese xenism or peregrinism in the French media.

Thus, even the new term kawaii recently appeared under the boom of Japanese popular culture; the notion of kawaii could be easily accepted by interlocutors in France who have a common knowledge about one of the stereotypical Japanese characteristics – petit, mièvre, mignard. In addition, the new word kawaii and the traditionally well-known term geisha could be also exploited to reinforce obstinate stereotypical Japanese characteristics: “petit, mièvre, mignard”, which would be as argumentative device in foreign texts on Japan.

[i] In particular, we investigated the term geisha in the three newspapers published in 1995, 2000, 2005 and the term Kawaii in the same newspapers from 1999 to 2008. The first reason for this is we had to wait for the apparition of the term kawaii by December 17th, 1999 in the article “Des figures de la culture « kawaii » imprégnées des valeurs japonaises” published in Le Monde, and it started to be used often in Libération since 2002 and in Le Figaro since 2006. The second reason is that occurrences of the term « kawaii » are minimal. In total, in our corpus, though the term « geisha » appeared 5 times in Le Monde, 5 times in Libération, and 13 times in Le Figaro, « kawaii » was only used 4 times in Le Monde and 11 times each in Libération and in Le Figaro. Articles in which we can find the term geisha are more numerous than articles using the term kawaii. Thus we limited the research period of publication of articles concerning geisha to 1995, 2000, and 2005.
[ii] Jean Dubois et al. explain that being a loan word is the last stage of the loan word, which is introduced into the French vocabulary and which could, for example, enter in some process of derivation and of composition (Dubois et al. 2001, p. 512). In our paper, we do not discuss loan words, which are no longer considered foreign words.
[iii] The translation of all the citations in French is done by the author of the paper.
[iv] Glosses of kawaii, such as mignon in French are not translated in English.
[v] Because the implicit ‘initiates a decoding activity that allows «cooperation» […]The implicit reinforces the argumentation by presenting under indirect and veiled form the beliefs and opinions which construct the undisputed premise[…] and the implicit permits to locutor at the same time to say certain things, and to be able to do as if he did not say them’ (Amossy 2000, p.152).
[vi] For example, the peregrinism Hiroshima is used in French newspapers to qualify Japanese fashion and is not related to the atomic bomb at all (Koma, 2009, pp.40-43).
[vii] Gothic Lolita, sometimes shortened to GothLoli (ゴスロリ, gosu rori), is a combination of the gothic and Lolita fashions. The fashion originated in the late 1990s and has been speculated to be “the social backlash” in response to Japanese fashion ( on July 6, 2010).

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Yomota.I. (2006). Kawaii ron(an essay on Kawaii), Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo.

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