Way More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Hello Kitty

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You know her name. You've seen her signature red ribbon. And even though you're curious, you've never had the courage to learn more because you're not a seven-year old girl. Don't worry; your secret is safe with us. To help you out, we've come up with a list of everything you've ever wanted to know about Hello Kitty, but were too embarrassed to ask.

1. The iconic white cat is the primary spokesanimal for Sanrio, a Japanese company started in the 1950s to sell silk and produce.

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In the 1960s, they expanded their product line to include items that catered to the gift-giving tradition in Japan – usually small, simple objects that can be given to a friend for special occasions, holidays, or even everyday things like visiting their house. Most of Sanrio’s items at the time, like pencil cases and stickers, were geared towards elementary school kids and, almost by accident, they discovered that adding cute little designs and characters helped sales. When one of the in-house designers came up with Hello Kitty, the best thing company founder Shintaro Tsuji could say was that he liked it well enough.

2. Despite everyone calling her Hello Kitty, her name is actually Kitty White.

There is some debate as to how she got her nickname, though one theory points to her 1974 debut on a clear coin purse with her picture under the word “Hello.” Teenage girls were immediately drawn to “the Hello Kitty,” and the purse became a best-seller.

3. In Taiwan, there's a Hello Kitty Hospital!

© Christine Lu/Reuters/Corbis

Each bed sheet is branded with Hello Kitty, as are the nurses' uniforms. A giant Kitty statue greet guests in the lobby. According to a 2008 Reuters report, twice a year, people in character costumes come around and entertain patients.

4. Today, there are around 50 Sanrio characters gracing over 22,000 officially-license products.

On average, the company introduces three new characters every year, while at the same time taking a handful out of circulation for a little while so they don’t oversaturate the market. All told, Sanrio's annual sales hover around $5 billion dollars.

5. Hello Kitty and her pals are part of the kawaii (“cute”) subculture of Japan.

“Kawaisa” (“cuteness”) appeared on the cultural landscape in the 1970s, when teenage girls began adding hearts, rainbows, and smiley faces to their writing, and even spoke in a sort of baby talk manner. This fad caused quite a bit of controversy among adults, but was adopted by companies so they could connect with young people just as they were becoming a force in the consumer market. As people realized kawaisa wasn't going to bring the downfall of society, it became accepted and is now integral to Japanese culture.

6. There are a couple of urban legends about her origins that add a sinister connotation to Hello Kitty.

One story says that a controversial nuclear power plant hired Sanrio to create a cute corporate mascot that would help soften their image. Another legend tells of a married couple whose only daughter was sick with cancer. In exchange for her recovery, the parents made a pact with the Devil that they would create a character in Satan’s honor that would be adored worldwide. As you might have guessed, neither of these is true.

7. In 2007, it was announced that police in Bangkok would be forced to wear bright pink Hello Kitty armbands as punishment for minor infractions.

© Rungroj Yongrit/epa/Corbis

The plan was soon abandoned—according to NBC News, "There was a rebellion in the macho ranks, as well as outrage on Hello Kitty websites."

8. She's a clean slate!

Hello Kitty and many other Sanrio characters were designed without a mouth so that the character could take on whatever emotions the viewer needs them to have at the time. Some believe this is part of the reason they’re so popular across generations and cultures - anyone can relate to them. (It’s also one of the things that Kitty haters say creeps them out the most.)

9. She looks suspiciously similar to a certain white rabbit.

Image courtesy of JapanProbe.com

Almost since her introduction, children's author and illustrator Dick Bruna has insisted that Hello Kitty and her pals resembled the design of his own cute creation, Miffy. First published in 1955 — nearly 20 years before Hello Kitty’s debut — Miffy is a white rabbit with an oval head, small, black eyes and a tiny “X” for a mouth. Still, Bruna never officially challenged the designs until 2010, when he sued Sanrio for its character, Cathy, a white rabbit that is Hello Kitty's best friend. The timing was a bit strange, considering Cathy was introduced in 1976 and has been featured on thousands of products over the last 35 years, but the courts still ruled in Bruna's favor. Sanrio is appealing the decision, but for the time being, they're banned from selling Cathy merchandise in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

10. Hello Kitty has been featured in over a dozen video games, including her latest, Hello Kitty Online

Hello Kitty Online is a free massively multiplayer role playing game in the same vein as World of Warcraft. Players can adventure alone or join guilds to complete quests like finding all the ingredients for a special soup, delivering a pizza before it gets cold, or collecting wands that can be used to defeat monsters that guard treasure. There’s also the opportunity to build your own house, raise crops, adopt a pet, and customize your character’s wardrobe. For some of these perks, you’ll need to earn Sanrio Loyalty Points by posting videos, writing blog posts, and completing quizzes on Sanriotown.com. Or you can spend real money to buy Loyalty Points at an exchange rate of 80 points for a $1. To give you some idea of the price, a typical in-game house costs about $5, not including furniture, which is, of course, sold separately.

11. She's not just for kids.

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While most Hello Kitty products are made for children, as the brand’s customers have gotten older, Sanrio has catered to them with more adult-oriented products. For example, Fender guitars has featured a Hello Kitty Stratocaster, Neiman Marcus recently carried a collection of Hello Kitty jewelry with a top price of $5,000, Dr. Marten boots is currently selling a line of Sanrio shoes, and there are even Airbus airplanes with her image plastered on the side. There are also two high-end boutiques called Sanrio Luxe in New York's Times Square and in Manila, Philippines, which feature exclusive, expensive, rhinestoned-out products.

This shift to more adult products has been a bit controversial, though. Hello Kitty thongs, Hello Kitty Wine, and a “Hello Kitty Massage Wand” (AKA The Hello Kitty Vibrator), have been popular with adult female fans, but have been frowned upon by those who feel the brand should remain focused on its youngest followers instead.

12. Then there are the unofficial products.

Of course you can't be this popular without a few people jumping on the bandwagon. There are thousands of unofficial Hello Kitty products, like Hello Kitty bongs, Hello Kitty gas masks, and Hello Kitty handguns and assault rifles. There's even a Hello Kitty-themed S&M room at one of Japan's “love hotels,” where Japanese couples can rent a room by the hour for private encounters. Sanrio has tried to stop some of these copyright infringements, but there are so many that it's virtually impossible to keep up.

Meet the Cast

This epic world of cute fuzzy icons includes:

• Hello Kitty: Kitty White is officially 5 apples high, weighs 3 apples, lives near London, her birthday is November 1, and her blood type is A. (Blood type is apparently important in the Sanrio canon; you have to enter a blood type when creating your character on the Hello Kitty Online game.)

• Dear Daniel: Hello Kitty's unofficial boyfriend. His father is a famous photographer, which means the family has lived all over the world in places like Africa, New York City, and is now back in London. He’s an excellent dancer in styles ranging from ballet to hip-hop.

• Badtz-Maru: One of the few Sanrio characters marketed to boys, he's a spiky-haired, rebellious penguin born on April 1. He has a “watchdog” that is actually an alligator named Pochi. He was honored as the official mascot for the 2006 FIBA World Championship Basketball Tournament held in Japan.

• My Melody: A rabbit wearing a red hood, second in popularity only to Hello Kitty, she even has her own line of products not sold under the Hello Kitty banner. She loves baking cookies with her mother, eating almond pound cake, and her best friend is a mouse named Flat.

• Kuromi: My Melody's friendly rival, this white rabbit wears a black hood with a pink skull. She loves reading romance novels, writing in her diary, and eating shallots.

(And many more.)

13. Hello Kitty has quite a political career.

She has been a UNICEF ambassador to the United States since 1983 and to Japan since 1994. Then, in 2008, she was appointed as the official Japanese ambassador of tourism to both Hong Kong and China, the first fictional character to hold this title.

14. If you're a Scottish Sanrio fan, you can get a kilt made using the Hello Kitty tartan.

The pink plaid pattern was designed by Lochcarron of Scotland, the world's leading manufacturer of tartans, and was officially recognized by the the Scottish Register of Tartans in 2004.

15. Sadly, not all associations with Hello Kitty are sunshine and rainbows, especially 1999’s “The Hello Kitty Murder.”

The details are gruesome. You can read about it here.

Know any other Hello Kitty facts we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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May 27, 2011 - 11:53am
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