Krazy for Kitty

Article excerpt

Pattie Dunn, an academic adviser in the Asian Studies Program at UH and a Hello Kitty enthusiast, shows items in her vast collection.

The Hello Kitty phenomenon is the subject of "Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty's Trek Across the Pacific," by Christine Yano.

Sanrio in Ala Moana Center offers exclusive Japan-themed merchandise such as kimono-dressed Hello Kitty stuffed animals and bags.

"I have to have it," says Pattie Dunn as she checks her favorite websites for unique and quirky Hello Kitty merchandise.

At her office on the University of Hawaii campus, where she is the academic adviser for the Asian Studies Program, the 61-year-old Dunn has surrounded herself with some of her finds, like a bubble gum machine, filled with pink and white gumballs, that sits on the floor next to her desk, and one of her favorite purchases, a small "personal massager" on a key chain that is an authorized collaboration by Japa­nese merchandiser Sanrio and Italian toymaker Rody.

"I like that Hello Kitty is kawaii ('cute' in Japa­nese), but it can be naughty, like this toy," she said. "I know it's ridiculous for a grown woman like myself to have the bubble gum machine, the Hello Kitty toaster that doesn't work now, the minifridge and the cookware. And my grown sons draw the line at me getting a Hello Kitty bath mat and shower curtain for our home."

Dunn's giddy enthusiasm for the white kitty with button eyes, no mouth and a big red bow is evidence of the Japa­nese brand's cross-generational appeal, which has resulted in an estimated $5 billion in annual sales of toys, eyeglasses, luggage, jewelry, home decor, string bikinis, electronics accessories and just about every other consumer product imaginable. (Earlier this month a Los Angeles Dodgers game sold out after a promotional giveaway of 50,000 Hello Kitty fleece blankets was announced.)

The global Hello Kitty marketing juggernaut is the subject of UH anthropology professor Christine Yano's new book, "Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty's Trek Across the Pacific" (Duke University Press, $24.95).

Yano doesn't consider herself a Hello Kitty aficionado like Dunn, but as an academic she is intrigued by the marketing phenomenon that reached the U.S. in 1976, two years after the character was added to Sanrio's product line.

Hawaii's introduction to Hello Kitty was largely through the school supplies and other merchandise for young girls sold at retailers such as Liberty House.

Yano, who has taught Japa­nese pop culture at UH since 1977, was taken by the richness of the whole Hello Kitty concept and Sanrio's marketing acumen, as well as the enthusiasm of fans like Dunn.

"It's truly a global phenomenon. Hello Kitty can get you from either the top down (as an adult) or the bottom up (as a child)," she said. …