Travel is often fatal to stereotypes. Occasionally, however, travel confirms them. Case in point: Japan’s love of all things Hello Kitty.
As I noted in episode #14, the Japanese fascination with Hello Kitty is nothing short of a national obsession. During my brief sojourn to the Land of the Rising Sun earlier this month I don’t think a day went by when I did not cross paths with some form of Hello Kitty. Indeed, in the trendy Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo, Hello Kitty could not be avoided. I finally gave in:
I am seen here giving the peace/victory sign, something all Japanese seem to flash in photographs, for reasons that elude me. This is especially true with kids, as evidenced by this group of school girls who befriended me and missus on the Ryōan-ji Temple grounds in Kyoto in order that they might practice their “Engrish”:
But I digress.
One of the reasons for Hello Kitty’s saturation of the Japanese market is that, apparently, licensing rights to produce Hello Kitty merchandise can be had on the cheap. That and the Sanrio Company, owner of the Hello Kitty franchise, places very few restrictions on what products the Hello Kitty image can and cannot be used. It would appear the only restrictions are on a handful of “negative” products like cigarettes, liquor and porn.
As a result, there are some 50,000 forms of Hello Kitty merchandise currently on the market, including Hello Kitty M-16 assault rifles, Hello Kitty urinal targets and Hello Kitty feminine hygiene products. In addition to these purely commercial products, one can also, apparently, produce and sell Hello Kitty-themed religious merchandise. As I mentioned in the podcast, I saw what appears to be a dish towel featuring the Buddha holding Hello Kitty, for sale in the city of Nara, at a stand outside the Todaiji, the world’s largest wooden structure where Japan’s largest buddha can be found:
Regretfully, I passed on the chance to purchase this fine piece of art. I didn’t even bother to ask the price. Hindsight truly is 20/20. Let this be a lesson to you all.
– Dandy Will