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The History of Amigurumi

Once you get used to the pronunciation, ah-mee-goo-roo-mee, the technique of amigurumi can be so much fun! Blogger M.E. Williams explains on DIY Life: "Nuigurumi is a Japanese word that means 'stuffed doll,' but it refers to sewn fabric items. Ami is from a word that means crocheted or knitted. So, an amigurumi is a crocheted or knitted stuffed doll.

"The first amigurumi books began hitting bookshelves in America in 2007, and the Internet was abuzz; patterns were saturating the Web. Japan had a jump on the trend years before it traveled across the Pacific to America's shores."

Affectionately known as "amis," these fascinating little characters are worked in the round most of the time and can usually be finished in one to two hours. They are interesting to make and -- even though they are simple -- the results are intriguing and always "cute."

Amigurumi make great gifts for kids and adults alike. Those who don't know how to crochet are often fascinated by the detail of the little toys. I, personally, find that I like to make an amigurumi or two in between bigger projects. Once I've completed a challenging pattern, I like to take a breather and regroup to decide what I'll do next. Amigurumi satisfy my need to keep my fingers busy while my mind is at rest.

"Amigurumi are typically animals, but can include artistic renderings or inanimate objects endowed with anthropomorphic features, as is typical in Japanese culture. Amigurumi have no practical use; they are created and collected for aesthetic reasons. The pervading aesthetic of amigurumi is cuteness. To this end, typical amigurumi animals have over-sized spherical heads on cylindrical bodies with undersized extremities, usually termed a 'chibi style' outside of Japan. Amigurumi may be used as children's toys but are generally purchased or made solely for aesthetic purposes."

As I researched more into the background of this popular technique, I became fascinated with the cultural aspects that spurred on the trend. In Japan, "cute" is everything from a hobby to a lifestyle. Cute pops up in many popular things in Japan such as plushies, artwork, fashion and lifestyle. There are two reasons why Japan projects the cute image that comes to mind when we think of this country.

First, many people saw Japan as a cruel, militaristic nations as a result of its image during and directly after World War II. Following such atrocities and destruction after and including the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japan began working hard to rebuild not only its cities and economy, but also its image in order to gain favor with the rest of the world. Not long thereafter, Japan started adopting the persona of "cute," which would celebrate all things pure, innocent and childlike. For Japan, this type of mental defense was used as a nation to strive to be liked by others after the devastation of World War II and the social and political troubles that followed.

More recently, the culture of cute has become an even bigger part of Japanese society as a way for the people to cope with the sometimes overwhelming stresses of their everyday lives such as intense pressure to get high exam scores in school and the stress of Japan's competitive job market and long working hours. For many Japanese teenagers and young adults the "cute" lifestyle can be seen not just as a way to cope with social pressures, but also as rebellion against their stressful, rigid society.

In Japan, "cute" (kawaii) manifests itself in many different ways. The very recognizable character by Sanrio, Hello Kitty, is one example. The presentation of food is very important to the Japanese and "cute" can be found in the bento boxes, which are small, portable containers for taking lunch on-the-go. Some people put a lot of effort into making their lunch super cute. Onigiri (bits of shaped rice), egg and hotdog shapers are used to make food look like animals or cute anime characters.

Not everyone in Japan, however, loves "cute." Some worry that it is quickly replacing and destroying Japan's more traditional culture and image which focuses on understatement and simplicity.

Crocheters often like to experiment and try a new technique. Give amigurumi a try; it requires little investment of time or materials with surprisingly fun results. Click here to look through a few amigurumi patterns.