Japan's Pop Culture Exports: It All Started with Hello Kitty

By Bennett Richardson Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 6, 2004 | Go to article overview

Japan's Pop Culture Exports: It All Started with Hello Kitty


Bennett Richardson Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


For an expressionless little white fur ball, Japan's Hello Kitty puts up a mean fight in the cultural jungle.

Once the defining measure of girls' craze for cuteness within Japan, the pop feline today can be found staring out from the handbags, sweat shirts, notebooks, and now debit cards of children and night-clubbing art students alike around the globe. And as she marks her 30th anniversary, Hello Kitty's combination of Mona Lisa mystery and saccharine sweetness has become an unlikely symbol of the shift in Japan's global reach from cars to culture.

Hello Kitty - which earns $1 billion a year for its owner, Sanrio Co. - isn't alone among Japanese cultural creations in finding an audience in the West. In recent years, Japanese characters such as Pokemon and the fantasy series Yu-Gi-Oh! have become staples of children's entertainment. Japanese horror films - think "The Ring" - are international hits. Anime - animated flicks - and "manga" comics have made inroads, appealing to global audiences with their Dickensian plots and appealing style.

Nobuyoshi Kurita, a professor of sociology and pop media at Musashi University in Tokyo, says the newfound yen for all things Japanese underscores a global move from a materialistic to an information culture. "Stereos and cars used to be considered symbolic of modern Japanese culture," he says. "But now it's animation."

According to Mr. Kurita, the next stage will be "expressive" culture, where fashion and cosmetics lead the way - and where Japan already exerts a powerful influence in Taiwan and China. Though pop culture trends in the Asia and the West remain fairly distinct today, he says, "in 10 or 20 years' time, I expect East Asia to become the full-blown opinion leader."

For now, Hello Kitty is on the vanguard of the Japanese cultural image abroad. Part of her charm, says Yo Kato, producer of the 30th anniversary Kitty Exhibition in Tokyo, is her malleability. "She has no mouth and no expression, which enables people to assign their own interpretation - be it as a cute item or as something cool," he says.

The exhibition, which features works by everyone from fashion model Ai Tominaga to Lisa Marie Presley, is a tribute to that flexibility, with installations including a Hello Kitty UFO, a Kafkaesque Kitty de Milo statue, and a Kitty tattoo gallery. Mr. Kato estimates the number of visitors at 100,000 visitors so far and says he been approached to take the show to New York, London, and Paris.

Susan Napier, an expert on Japanese culture at the University of Texas in Austin, agrees that part of Kitty's appeal is the fact that "she's just so amorphous." Because the Japanese origins of the character have been obscured, Hello Kitty has been able to transcend cultural differences and become universal.

Beyond Hello Kitty, a literary culture in Japanese anime and manga offers an alternative to the homogenized - and predominant - Hollywood fare, she says. And children who grew up with video games are said to identify with the animated characters of a nonrepresentational world.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Japan's Pop Culture Exports: It All Started with Hello Kitty
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.