A sweet little kitten with a red ribbon on its left ear has enjoyed the affection of girls for many years. Her name is Kitty. She was created in 1974 by Sanrio, a company that designs and sells character products.
In the early days, Kitty was featured on stationery, such as pencil cases and notebooks, as well as on other products like cups and hand mirrors. These products became very popular among girls in elementary and middle school, and friends would compare how many they had. Girls exchanging Hello Kitty goods as gifts at birthday parties has been a common sight since this time.
“She’s small and cute and roundish, and that’s what I like about Kitty,” says Fujita Natsumi, a 13-year-old living in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. Her mother is a fan, too. “I have lots of Hello Kitty clothes and color pens that my mom gave me.” Her favorite is a stuffed toy that is 20 centimeters (8 inches) tall, and it has been with Natsumi since before she could remember.
In 1996 the media reported how several TV personalities and singers had their own collections of Hello Kitty goods, and from then on, many high-school girls and young women came to collect them as well. A new word, Kiti-ra (combining the character’s name and the Japanese pronunciation of the English suffix -er as in carpenter or lover), was even coined to refer to people who have a deep affection for Hello Kitty goods.
From around this time, Kitty began showing up on products that adults could buy for themselves, such as kitchenware and daily necessities. Nowadays, Kitty can be seen on just about anything, from small articles like cell-phone cases to home appliances like TVs and toasters (which will brand a Kitty face on the toast), and even on larger articles, like furniture and golf bags.
There are also Hello Kitty products for men, such as neckties. The list still goes on, spanning a very wide range of products: There are pancake-like sweets in the shape of Kitty’s face, Kitty notebook computers, hundreds of different kinds of Kitty amulets, taxis furnished inside with Kitty decorations, and Hello Kitty Quno, the Kitty model of a subcompact car known as a “ridable Choro-Q.”
Some Hello Kitty products can only be bought in limited areas. The handkerchief that 15-year-old Yamamoto Yuka treasures depicts Kitty standing in front of Lake Shinji in Matsue, a city in the north of Shimane Prefecture where she lives. “This design is only sold in Matsue,” Yuka explains. “The picture in Kitty’s background and her costume is different from region to region. I have the Hida Takayama handkerchief, too, and I want to collect all the different versions from around the country.”
Kitty will celebrate her thirtieth anniversary this year. She continues to win over more admirers of a wide range of ages, and there already are families with three generations of Hello Kitty fans.