The news has spread like wildfire — Hello Kitty is not a cat.
The expert who shocked fans everywhere Wednesday also happens to be a professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii.
Christine Yano says she received the confirmation from Sanrio while curating an upcoming exhibit that celebrates the character’s 40th anniversary at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
“I’d written a script for the exhibit and that script was looked over by the people in Sanrio,” she explained, “and in that script… I just blithely kind of called her Sanrio’s iconic cat, or something like that. Well that got sent back to me by the company, because indeed they wanted to make the point that she is not a cat.”
Yano has been studying Hello Kitty, the character’s appeal and her vast fan base since 1998. She’s frequented Sanrio’s offices in the U.S. and Japan, and published a book on her research, titled “Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek across the Pacific.”
“It’s the way she spans generations that I find interesting. She is designed and given a kind of flexibility and that provides a greater breadth of who she might appeal to,” Yano said.
“I’ve sort of gathered far and wide various fans from all over. I’ve interviewed a punk fan, a businesswoman, even an old retired gentlemen,” she added. “It’s culling from their responses to Hello Kitty that I’ve come to the conclusion that what Sanrio has done is create a character with a great deal of flexibility and creativity. This is part of the appeal.”
Part of that creativity, Yano explains, is creating an entire world for Hello Kitty that involves a biography with details that many fans might not know.
Details like the fact that Hello Kitty is British, not Japanese, and lives outside of London. Her birthday is Nov. 1 and she has parents and a twin sister, Mimmy. “You can tell one apart from the other by which side of the head they wear their bow,” Yano said.
When asked to explain Hello Kitty’s ears, whiskers and overall feline resemblance, Yano replied, “I think that Sanrio’s response would be don’t be so literal. She was always meant as a kind of abstraction. She was always meant to invoke a sense of play, a sense of fun, a sense of amusement and, most importantly, a sense of happiness.”
Yano says the two-floor exhibit, which opens October 11 and runs through April 26, 2015, will celebrate all things Hello Kitty, from vacuums and toasters to elaborate, Hello-Kitty-themed fashion as worn by the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
“We have fantastic stuff, really mind-boggling stuff,” she said.
Though, likely not as mind-boggling as the idea that the “Kitty” in “Hello Kitty” isn’t literal.
“She is a friend. She can be a little girl. She is an icon, granted, but she is not a cat,” Yano said.