Mei Deng & Alekhya Pidugu

Founded in 1960 by Shintaro Tsuji, Sanrio is a Japanese company known for its cute characters such as Hello Kitty, Kuromi, and My Melody. For decades, Sanrio has been at the forefront of global kawaii and cute culture. In the 1970s, the company introduced Hello Kitty, a character that quickly became a global phenomenon.[1] A unique character named Gudetama has followed suit in popularity in the 21st century. 

Although most Sanrio characters have joyful expressions and are in line with a typical cute aesthetic, Gudetama is one of the only Sanrio characters who is genderless and has a perpetual resting sad face. The character is an anthropomorphized egg yolk whose main traits are laziness and sadness, and it is often depicted as complaining about life while sitting in the white of an egg or on a plate of food (see Figure 1). In Japanese, “gude” (ぐで) comes from the onomatopoeia gude gude (ぐでぐで) to describe something as drunk or lacking in energy, while “tama” (たま) comes from tamago (たまご), the Japanese word for “egg.” Hence, the character’s name is literally derived from the Japanese words for the above characteristics. Furthermore, Gudetama embodies the exhaustion and difficulties of surviving in a capitalistic modern-day society, an incredibly relatable notion to many people and directly correlated with the character’s rise in popularity. Sanrio and Gudetama’s audiences range from young children to older adults who enjoy collecting cute merchandise. However, even as Sanrio’s characters are loved by fans around the world, their cuteness has also been criticized as infantilizing and gendered. There have been a number of other perspectives about Sanrio’s concept of cuteness, its impact on society, and how it has played an important part in the globalization of Japanese culture. From a critical standpoint, Gudetama’s unique twist on cuteness carries a healing role, expands upon cute consumerism culture, and comments on gender roles.

Figure 1. Gudetama’s original character design.

When Gudetama was created in 2013 by 26-year-old Sanrio designer Emi Nagashima, its type of cuteness was considered unconventional. Nagashima was inspired to create Gudetama while using an egg to prepare tamago kake gohan, a popular Japanese food consisting of cooked rice topped with raw egg and soy sauce. The artist claimed that the droopy look of the yolk seemed cute.[2] In addition, she was partially inspired by the egg’s color and nutritional value, which allows an egg to be a versatile ingredient that can be prepared, cooked, and eaten in different ways. Despite its versatility, the raw egg itself, which is just a blob, appears apathetic and unmotivated to be cooked. This idea drew Nagashima to create a character that could be relatable to the current generation by expressing the widespread emotion of apathy and loss of motivation. Although several of Gudetama’s aspects (such as its blob-like nature) are considerably cute, its attitude does not follow traditional standards of cuteness, traits such as happiness and joy. Nagashima designed emotions of sadness and negativity into the character, emotions that are taken more seriously and not commonly associated with cuteness, since the cute is typically viewed as a light-hearted and unserious aesthetic in popular culture. 

In a sense, Gudetama’s juxtaposition of cuteness and apathy defies traditional norms of cuteness and emphasizes darker themes, relating to Ngai’s idea of cuteness exposing what is considered aesthetically valuable in popular culture.[3] By embracing the notion that Gudetama is cute, conventional hierarchies of taste and ideas of cuteness are challenged. That is, what is considered aesthetically valuable in popular culture gains a different perspective through characters like Gudetama. Gudetama’s cute yet sad design demonstrates the effectiveness of using cuteness as a tool to create cultural appeal and commercial success. 

Gudetama’s status as an egg raises the question of how food can be perceived as cute. The cuteness of food can affect consumers’ attitudes and perceptions toward a specific item.[4] Gudetama’s yolk is highlighted to depict it as soft and squishy, which are typical cute characteristics. Moreover, cute objects like food are often commodities that can be bought and sold in a capitalist market; cuteness is used to market products and create desirability.[5] This idea is pertinent to Gudetama, as its cuteness and identity as a food item afford it high appeal and easy marketability. The cuteness of food can also be connected to the cultural trend of “foodie-ism,” a term describing a desire for food that is both visually appealing and artisanal. “Foodie-ism” is a response against the sameness of mass-produced food and reflects a desire for “authenticity” in a world of consumerism. With the above in mind, Gudetama’s cute food design likely affects viewers’ behaviors toward merchandise featuring the character. Such reasons would, in part, account for Gudetama’s rise in popularity. 

Gudetama’s cuteness further derives from its expressions and behaviors, specifically in its portrayal as hopeless and helpless. The egg cannot help itself, and thus it must be helped. Moreover, Gudetama raises the topic of mental health and how mental health is represented by cute characters. Some have interpreted Gudetama’s lack of motivation as a form of resistance against the societal pressure to conform to a hyper-productive and constantly optimistic attitude, and Gudetama fits into this by creating a space for young people to express their lack of motivation and desire to work and for those who are labeled in Japanese society as shut-ins (hikikomori) or NEETS (Not in Education, Employment, or Training).[6] Along with unproductivity, this mentality is frowned upon in the high-tech and fast-paced society of Japan. However, Gudetama allows youth to reclaim a space in which they will not feel judged or stigmatized for having such an ideology. Thus, Gudetama serves as a means of healing by addressing issues related to depression and mental health among young people. 

Notably, the popularity of Gudetama and kawaii characters is attributable to their ability to provide a sense of catharsis or emotional release for individuals struggling with depression or other mental health issues.[7] Yet, despite Gudetama’s identifiable depression, its mental illness is never diagnosed or treated and met with “hostility and criticism instead of sympathy.”[8] The acknowledgment of mental illness without any useful action mimics how mental health is generally addressed in Japan and some other Asian cultures, where mental illness is often considered taboo. This raises the concern for “empty healing,” since the use of a character such as Gudetama is only a temporary distraction from other underlying problems that must be addressed through more comprehensive means that can sustainably heal psychological suffering. As Theodore Bonnah notes, Gudetama’s catharsis becomes a mere “false escape” when no improvements or solutions to mental health issues are made accessible in reality, showing how popular characters can heal only to a certain extent.[9]

Figure 2. A woman buys Gudetama merchandise at a Sanrio store.

Gudetama’s unique cuteness parallels a rapid rise in global kawaii consumerism that extends beyond Sanrio. Enthralled by the lazy character, millions of fans collect Gudetama-themed merchandise ranging from plush toys and stationery to clothing and kitchenware. Gudetama’s appeal lies in its cuteness and relatability, as many people identify with its lethargic nature and embrace its message of self-care and slower pace of life. The consumer culture of Gudetama has grown to become a major industry, with fans purchasing anything featuring the character and displaying their devotion to collecting Gudetama merchandise (see Figure 2). In recent years, Gudetama-themed cafes have emerged, attracting hundreds to thousands of customers from around the world. 

Gudetama’s globalization has been successful due to the character’s accessibility through social media, popular culture, and the mass production of merchandise. Social media platforms have expanded the character’s popularity well beyond Japan, and greater exposure to television shows, movies, and video games has contributed to Gudetama becoming more well-known and popular.[10] In 2015, Sanrio released five Sanrio danshi, animated boy characters aimed at promoting the merchandise and who would “post” their “real lives” on Twitter.[11] Essentially, the boys would sell the idea that “a consumer can find happiness, definition, and empowerment through the consumption of Sanrio merchandise” and that the happiness of the characters themselves is “inexorably connected to their consumption of Sanrio products.”[12]

Moreover, the consumption of cute Gudetama merchandise lies within the actual character design. As Bonnah describes, Gudetama is specifically the yolk of an egg and not the entire egg, which implies that capitalism “demands the best of people and discards the rest.”[13] Bonnah continues, stating that Gudetama serves as a symbol of the harsh reality of selective employment and capitalist values. In a typical society, people are primarily valued for their ability to produce and generate profit, akin to how eggs are valued for their consumable nature rather than any growth potential. This notion is especially evident in modern capitalist societies, in which individuals are treated as disposable commodities. Gudetama’s existence as a consumable egg reinforces this connection, serving as a poignant reminder of the fate of an average Japanese worker who is viewed as a disposable asset. The consumerism surrounding Gudetama is somewhat ironic since purchasing Gudetama merchandise contributes to capitalism and the lulls of mental health while the character design itself comments on this very issue.

Figure 3. Inflatable Gudetamas at the Palawan Beach during Sentosa FunFest in Singapore.

The consumerism of kawaii culture is indicative of cute commodification and how it intertwines with globalization. After World War II, Japan transformed its economy and developed its soft power by spreading Japanese culture through the commodification of cute objects. One of the most popular examples of this soft power is Hello Kitty, another Sanrio character that “was always intended as a global product… the Japanese cat that would overtake the American mouse.”[14] Likewise, Gudetama has become a part of Japan’s sizeable soft power. Its simplified and genderless character allows it to be open to various interpretations by consumers, making it easily marketable. Although Gudetama is of Japanese origin, its nationality is not blatantly obvious, as it is a food item recognizable to most cultures. None of its features possess any distinct Japanese “cultural fragrance.” In other words, Gudetama is culturally “odorless” and echoes the Japanese concept of mukokuseki, or “racially, ethnically and culturally unembeddedness.”[15] Because it is marked by ethnic and national ambiguity, Gudetama’s cuteness allows it to be easily commodified on a global scale (see Figure 3).

Recently, Gudetama has gained particular appeal in the West so much so that in 2022, the global media company Netflix released an animated show called Gudetama: An Eggcellent Adventure on its American programming (see Figure 4). The show combines animation with live-action portrayals of Japanese people, providing a unique and engaging viewing experience by featuring real-life Japanese locations that create a sense of connection between Gudetama and the real world. The diffusion of Japanese popularity into Western culture evidences the character’s global appeal, with fans from numerous cultures identifying with the show’s message and character’s quirky personality. Overall, the success of Gudetama has not only resulted from its cuteness and relatability, but also from Japan’s soft power and reputation for creating high-quality, innovative products. With its diffusion into Western culture, Gudetama continues to grow in popularity, representing a unique blend of global appeal and Japanese culture.

Figure 4. Netflix’s Gudetama: An Eggcellent Adventure (2022).

As a final point, when studying the impacts of gender on Sanrio characters, Gudetama is an exception because the character has no gender. Besides the character being consumed by laziness, Sanrio has stated that Gudetama is not fertilized and therefore genderless. As such, Gudetama can potentially be seen as a form of nonbinary representation and a symbol of inclusivity for those who do not conform to normative gender identities. Some may view Gudetama’s gender design as a form of queering cuteness due to other non-normative expressions of gender in kawaii culture. Thus, the idea of a lazy and genderless character makes it more appealing to a broader audience. Gudetama shows that work stress affects everyone regardless of gender identity, and all genders can enjoy the character’s relatability and mood; its lack of gender creates a more inclusive environment by fostering diversity to appeal to a larger population. A quick Google search of “Is Gudetama non-binary” results in numerous discussion forums and pages on Reddit and Quora. For example, there is a Reddit page titled “Can we make Gudetama the icon for trans rights?,” and another titled “Gudetama most relatable enby icon.” Gudetama’s genderless nature evidently has an extensive impact on the gendering of cuteness.

Sanrio’s Gudetama has gained a significant following for its unconventional approach to cuteness. Unlike most cute characters with a happy-go-lucky demeanor, Gudetama’s lazy, glum, and genderless personality offers a unique perspective on what it means to be cute. By expanding the boundaries of kawaii culture, Gudetama challenges traditional notions of cuteness, facilitating new forms of expression and representation. This subversive approach works to overcome conventional hierarchies of cuteness and encourages a more inclusive and diverse representation of cuteness. Overall, Gudetama represents a powerful, subversive tool that challenges conventional hierarchies of cuteness, capitalism, and gender, and its existence may inspire more characters to follow in its footsteps.

Published: 6/30/2023


[1] Christine R. Yano, “Wink on Pink: Interpreting Japanese Cute as It Grabs the Global Headlines,” The Journal of Asian Studies 68, no. 3 (August 2009): 683. 

[2] Jun Hongo and Isabella Steger, “If Hello Kitty’s Too Cheery, This Yolk May Go Over Easier for You,” The Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2016,

[3] Sianne Ngai, “The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde,” Critical Inquiry 31, no. 4 (Summer 2005).

[4] Juan Tang, Libo Yan, and Jiayu Wu, “Tourists’ cognitions of and responses to cute food,” Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management 54 (March 2023): 300-1.

[5] Ngai, “The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde,” 822.

[6] Theodore Bonnah, “Kimo-kawaii Catharsis: millennials, depression and the empty healing of Sanrio’s Gudetama,” Japan Forum 31 no. 2 (2018): 188.

[7] Bonnah, “Kimo-kawaii,” 189.

[8] Bonnah, “Kimo-kawaii,” 193.

[9] Bonnah, “Kimo-kawaii,” 204.

[10] Tejal Rao, “Gudetama, the incredible, miserable egg,” The Japan Times, December 11, 2022,

[11] Simon Gough and Anne Lee, “Material Multiplicities and Sanrio Danshi: The Evolution of Sanrio’s Media Mix,” Japan Foundation Australia 20, no. 1 (April 2020),

[12] Gough and Lee, “Material Multiplicities."

[13] Bonnah, “Kimo-kawaii Catharsis,” 196.

[14] Yano, “Wink on Pink,” 683. 

[15] Koichi Iwabuchi, “How ‘Japanese’ is Pokemon?”, in Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon, ed. Joseph Tobin (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 61.