Saturday, February 22, 2014

I’m in Love with Hello Kitty: Confessions of a Stuffed Cat in Japan

She swept into my life like a summer storm, her face radiating with an ethereal and innocent beauty. I was struck like lightning. Almost scorched my stuffings and set my little kokoro pitter-pattering.

I’d been scampering up the Sannen-zaka Steps of Kyoto’s Higashiyama District, when I first saw her. She wore a beautiful pink kimono, which set off her guileless face to perfection. It was a very simple face. Eyes like jewels in the sun and a little button nose.

She said nothing. She just looked at me with those kind eyes and I imagined her smiling at me. In fact that was impossible because she doesn’t have a mouth; but the poets among you will tell us that we smile with more than our mouths.  

I’m a sophisticated cat. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve eaten with a royal prince in Switzerland; motorcycled my way around Cozumel; climbed a Mayan temple and come face to face with a poisonous snake; experienced a tornado in Kentucky; felt the effect of a Caribbean hurricane on a cruise ship; sailed in Nova Scotia; downhill skied the Sudan Couloir on Blackcomb, British Columbia…

I’m not a pushover.

What was it about Hello Kitty that so discombobulated me? I think it was the fact that she doesn’t have a mouth … She appeared to me like a dream, reflecting me. Is that not what a perfect friend does? Reflect your own beauty back to you?

When interviewed by Time Magazine about Hello Kitty’s lack of this facial feature, Yuko Yamaguchi (the current official designer) wisely responded, “It’s so that people who look at her can project their own feelings onto her face… Kitty looks happy when people are happy. She looks sad when they are sad. For this psychological reason, we thought she shouldn’t be tied to any emotion—and that’s why she doesn’t have a mouth.”

I was truly smitten and realized very soon that while I was in Japan I couldn’t escape her; I began to see her images and other likenesses of her everywhere. On the buses and commuter trains. In little shops and boutiques outside shrines and temples. On posters advertising tourist attractions (like the Golden Temple). On people’s clothing, purses, stationary and magazine covers and newspapers. On cell phone covers. On nori containers. On my friend’s pink watch. Even in the foam of my latte in the morning! Wherever I went and looked, Hello Kitty was there!

Elisson at "Cheeseaisle" tells us that "Hello Kitty is beloved by the Japanese: to say that she is their answer to Mickey Mouse is a damn her with faint praise." 

Hello Kitty officially hales from the suburbs of London, England on November 1st. Her favorite food, I’m told, is Mama’s homemade Apple Pie. She likes to travel, listen to music, read and eat cookies (and her mom’s apple pie, of course!). Another favorite hobby of hers is to make friends. Well, that’s obvious! Purrrrrr….

Hello Kitty is a character by Sanrio, a Japanese company that designs, licenses and makes products that focus on the kawaii (cute) segment of current Japanese popular culture. Hello Kitty has now swept into North America and Europe, enchanting young and old alike with her guileless and simple beauty.

I left Japan a short while ago and said goodbye to her. But, she still resides in my little heart (I guess some goodbyes aren’t real goodbyes… She is called “Hello Kitty”, after all, not Goodbye Kitty)… I’ll miss you, meow!

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