The news is rippling its way around the globe: Beloved Japanese kawaii cutie Hello Kitty is NOT ACTUALLY A CAT.
You read that correctly. Although she looks like a cat (whiskers and ears!), and is named with a cat’s common nickname, a recent piece in the L.A. Times about the origins and influence of the kitschy Sanrio character has turned the globe on its ear.
While in Vancouver we get Hello Kitty street art and have a suburb full of shops where you can buy HK gear, this fall Los Angeles is getting not only a comprehensive exhibition of Hello Kitty art at a major museum, but also the first ever Hello Kitty convention. The cat…err, not-a-cat…is still enjoying tremendous popularity with fans young and old.
Hello Kitty, at a cougar-ish 40 years old, is not feline, but rather “a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat,” exhibit curator and anthropologist Christine R. Yano told the Times. “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.”
Sanrio offers a full backstory on HK, whose proper name is Kitty White. Born November 1 to parents George and Mary White, Kitty has a twin named Mimmy. The family resides outside of London (in a nod to 1970s-era Japanese fascination with all things British), and Kitty is wild about baking.
Perhaps we’re all over analyzing. Or, perhaps mistranslating. Kotaku reports that they clarified the whole “is she or isn’t she?” matter with a call to Sanrio’s Tokyo HQ, and a spokesperson told them:
“Hello Kitty was done in the motif of a cat. It’s going too far to say that Hello Kitty is not a cat. Hello Kitty is a personification of a cat.”
Kotaku adds: The specific word that the Sanrio spokesperson used to describe Hello Kitty was “gijinka” (擬人化), which means “anthropomorphization” or “personification.”
So, Hello Kitty is not NOT a cat. Yeah, we’re kinda still confused, too. Let’s just go back to a simpler time…