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Stop The Figurative Presses: Hello Kitty Not Literally A Cat

By / 08.28.14

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Yes, you read that headline right, especially if you read it in an old-timey news reader voice.

Christine R. Yano is an anthropologist from the University of Hawaii. Her current project is curating a Hello Kitty retrospective at the Japanese American National Museum in L.A. According to LAist, when Hello Kitty manufacturer Sanrio saw some of the texts that were to accompany the exhibits, they had an important correction:

Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.

Everything you know is wrong. Santa Claus isn’t real and also Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.

So at least it’s not, you know, totally weird that Hello Kitty has her own cat. See, she’s not exactly a cat, so she can own a cat. She’s, apparently, a little girl, though I assume not a human girl, but also let’s underscore her gender because that’s certainly more important than identifying her species, I guess.

Also kind of strange, Sanrio explains about the no mouth:

Hello Kitty speaks from her heart. She’s Sanrio’s ambassador to the world and isn’t bound to any particular language.

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I have a friend who wrote a novel called Hello Kitty Must Die, about destroying the stereotype of the cute, submissive, well-behaved Asian girlfriend… and also about mass murder. The Hello-Kitty-not-having-a-mouth issue has been kind of creepy to me ever since that book, but now I’m wigged out about Hello Kitty not even being a kitty.

Recently I read that the whole Japanese kawaii movement actually started as counter-culture. Girls were being told their handwriting was “too cutesy” and were banned from using it in school. What sprung up was a movement to dress as they damn well pleased, no matter what they were being told to do in order to get themselves a husband and be a good little wife.

It’s fascinating to see how something as simple as a mute cartoon not-cat can carry so much symbolism for so many people. Even the term “kawaii” evolved from a different meaning: first it was “kawayushi”, then “kawayui”, both synonyms for “shy” “pathetic” “vulernable” and “small.” Japanese schoolgirls were looking to rebel by sarcastically embracing the cuteness, meekness, and infantile nature of creatures like Hello Kitty.

I’m gonna stick to collecting robots, which is probably a whole nother psychology and certainly another huge subculture of Japan.

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TAGSCatsChristine R. YanoHELLO KITTYJAPANkawaiiSanrio

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