June 15, 2010: Hello…er..ummm…Hello Kitty!

June 15, 2010

Of course, I don’t exactly live under a rock, but I sometimes can be very out of touch with popular culture. I’ve managed to know of the popular Japanese character of Hello Kitty for an excess of 30 years but not to know much about her, despite having my good friend Lisa, who has been a big fan for as long as I have known her. But meeting my two new young friends, Nicole and Katie, last weekend, and finding that they were both HK fans as well, I thought it was way past time to find out a little bit more about the HK phenomena! Thank the world for Netflix. I ordered the most appealing HK title: “Hello Kitty Goes to the Movies” and the next day I was able to watch it.

If there could be anyone possibly less informed than I about Hello Kitty, she is a “manga” (print) and “anime” (moving image) cartoon character, drawn in a minimalistic style, first designed by Kuko Shimizu. She is portrayed as a young white cat with a red bow attached to her left ear and wears clothes. She is often drawn with no visible mouth. She lives with her mom and dad and her twin sister, Mimmy, who looks very much like HK but wears different clothes and has the bow on the right ear. In cartoons, HK sounds like a 4-5 year old girl. She appears to be adventuresome, kind, and thoughtful in personality In the cartoons she is shown having an extended family and a bevy of friends which she relates to and has adventures with. HK is supposed to be a Japanese bobtail cat. That’s a good choice for HK, as these cats are an active, inintelligent, and affectionate breed. Bobtails have soft voices and are said to “sing” as they are very “talkative” to their human owners (whom they have great affection for.) They learn tricks easily and are known to even “fetch” for their owners. They have soft, silky, medium-length hair. They can be any color, but tend to have a lot of white mixed with calico. Their most distinguishing characteristic is a short, “bobbed” tail, looking more like a rabbit’s tail than that of a cat. In rare cases, they can have different colored eyes (appearing in the more white cats, for some reason) one being blue (which the Japanese see as “silver”) and one being yellow (Japanese see as “gold”.) Kind of like a feline David Bowie. The bobtail, coincidentally, is also the auspicious symbol seen in a lot of Japanese businesses called the “maneki neko” (the “inviting cat.”)

I found “Hello Kitty Goes to the Movies” to be a good introduction to HK. In the series, she doesn’t so much as “go” to the movies as recreate famous movies in her “Furry Tail Theater” and as such making them more palatable to a younger audience. In “The Wizard of Paws” HK’s remake of “The Wizard of Oz” there was none of the trauma of the evil witch and the flying monkeys that still gives me shivers to this day. Her shows are full of punning “kitty-isms” like when she gets to Oz she says “I guess, I’m not in Catfish (Kansas) anymore!” I was surprised at a couple of phrases of well placed social commentary. One, is when HK and her family are playing aliens visiting Earth (the complexity of  a”show within a show” was interesting.) As HK is running off, her mom tells her “Watch out for the natives! They’re dangerous! I know…I’ve seen their TV shows!

So, I gave HK high marks for complexity and entertainment and being a part of the “kawaii” (cuteness) culture of Japan, she certainly is cute, but ultimately, I was very concerned about the merchandising of Hello Kitty as a product. This is nothing new, as any popular media figure is going to draw merchandising of some sort. Still, Sanrio Co. Ltd., who owns the rights to HK, generates $1 billion annually in licensing arrangements from everything from school supplies to fashion accessories!

I appreciate the chance to know a little bit more about modern culture, particularly as it gives me a chance (by proxy) to know my new young friends a little bit better, but I do hope that they are able to resist the temptation to fall into the draw of this merchandising, and resist the temptation to own things. I hope they will find cuteness and entertainment in all the manifestations of life, particularly the ones they find organically in friends, family, and nature.



  1. I always wanted my mom to buy me hello kitty merchandise from the mall when I was little but she was smart enough to say no. However she would then bring me around to the Godiva stall and treat me to a chocolate if my choice…I’d have to say introducing me to good chocolate at a young age was much more beneficial. 🙂

  2. I can’t believe you watched a Hello Kitty movie. You are too funny.

    I was able to resist the charms of the merchandise till I discovered the character Kuromi, a cute rabbit who wears a black hoodie with a pink skull on it. So now even though I am 800 years old, I have Kuromi charms on my keychains. That Sanrio, they know how to get us!

    (P.S., come to NY! I will take you to the Hello Kitty flagship store on 42nd St.)

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