What?! You’re Surprised Hello Kitty is Not a Cat?

Hawaii anthropologist and Hello Kitty author explains why in three questions.
Image: Courtesy Sanrio

News spread this week like viral fire when the Los Angeles Times reported that the beloved Sanrio character Hello Kitty is NOT a cat but a little girl.

Kitty, who turns 40 this year and has been an international icon for many, is beloved by big and little girls worldwide.

For the record, Sanrio has said that Kitty is a British third grader whose full name is Kitty White. While the web world may have been shaken by this seeming revelation, University of Hawaii professor/author Christine Yano can explain what’s going on with the plush phenom.

Yano, currently a visiting professor at Harvard University, not only has a Ph.d in anthropology; last year, she literally wrote the book on the popular Kitty: Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek across the Pacific.

Kitty is in the news more now because a new exhibit “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty,” opens Oct. 11 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, janm.org. And Hello Kitty Con begins Oct. 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, also in LA.

Yano kindly agreed to answer HONOLULU Magazine’s questions about this hot topic:

HONOLULU: What’s your take on Sanrio’s position that Hello Kitty is not a cat, but a cartoon character, a little girl, a friend?
Professor Yano: I think it’s important to take a light-hearted attitude toward this.  Sanrio created a biography for Hello Kitty (and all of their other characters) way back, decades ago.  And her biography reflects the tastes of Japan and its girl culture, part of which idolized what they perceived to be the story-book quality of England.  I don’t think that the company or her fans have thought through very deeply exactly what is the nature of her perceived existence.  But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the emotion with which she is regarded by her fans.

HONOLULU: What is Hawaii’s relationship with Hello Kitty? Do you think we’re crazier about her than most places?
Professor Yano: I’m not sure if Hawaii is crazier for Hello Kitty than other places.  But I think that in Hawaii, it’s OK to be sweet and nice, which goes along with some of the values that Hello Kitty seems to represent.

HONOLULU: What do you think most people should know about Hello Kitty that they might not?
Professor Yano: I think that it is important to see Hello Kitty from multiple perspectives, from fans who love her to critics who don’t.  Yes, she has staying power —although I would say that the way in which she is perceived may differ by time periods—but she also incites some people to run the other way.”