Hello Kitty, Sanrio’s signature mouthless character with a pink bow, began life as a coin purse in 1974 in Japan and moved into the hearts and collections -- as a plush toy, a toaster, and even men’s underwear -- of countless girls and grown men and women around the world. In fact, she’s licensed to appear on more than 50,000 products in 130 countries and territories, reports Business Insider. And on Saturday, the icon and megabrand turns 40.
Hello Kitty appeared three decades after World War II, at a time when the previously war-ravaged country was on an upswing and children had some money to spend. She embodies the Japanese reverence for “kawaii” or cuteness, which “Cool Japan” author Tomoyuki Sugiyama has written reflects Japan’s harmony-loving culture.
Clearly, Hello Kitty’s specific cultural meaning has had global reach, in part because of Hello Kitty’s blankness, which American anthropologist Christine Yano, whose research focuses on Hello Kitty, says reflects a kind of “cool” that other “insipidly cute” figures such as “Precious Moments” dolls do not have. "Hello Kitty works and is successful partly because of the blankness of her design," Yano told the Los Angeles Times.
"People see the possibility of a range of expressions," said Yano. "You can give her a guitar, you can put her on stage, you can portray her as is. That blankness gives her an appeal to so many types of people." Yano is the author of "Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty's Trek Across the Pacific" and curated Hello Kitty’s first American retrospective that launched this month at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles called “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty.”
Hello Kitty has not been without controversy, and she is not universally beloved. In addition to inspiring a book written by an anthropologist, The New Inquiry devoted an entire article to taking on feminist critiques of the feminized cat with no mouth and, as the argument goes, no voice. The blog Hello Kitty Hell devotes itself to cataloging the profusion of often ridiculous Hello Kitty products, including Hello Kitty braces, which its blogger notes is an ironic product for the mouthless icon. And recent revelations that she is not actually a cat -- but rather a girl from London! -- sent shockwaves through the Twittersphere.
Responding to the news, Hello Kitty fan @alxlsch tweeted, “My whole life has been a lie.”
â€” alexa jeanne lasch (@alxlsch) August 29, 2014