How Hello Kitty Conquered the World; The cutesy Hello Kitty character came to be popular with everyone from small children to motorcycle gangs

April 12, 2013, 2:11 p.m. ET

How Hello Kitty Conquered the World

The cutesy Hello Kitty character came to be popular with everyone from small children to motorcycle gangs.


Hello Kitty, Japan’s most recognizable cartoon cat, prefers to be seen and not heard—a consequence of being drawn without a mouth. Created by Japanese merchandiser Sanrio in 1974, Hello Kitty is made up of nothing more than a few simple strokes: a black circle with ears, two button eyes, whiskers and a lopsided bow. Yet those features have been imposed on millions of products in the decades since, and millions of fans around the world use the image as a canvas for their personal expression. Hello Kitty has served as a mascot for adult women, gay men and punk enthusiasts. While most cartoon characters have a distinctive personality—Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald, Garfield—Hello Kitty is a cipher.

Pink Globalization

By Christine R. Yano
Duke, 336 pages, $24.95

978-0-8223-5363-8_prInitially marketed towards young girls, by the 1990s Hello Kitty had tapped into a tide of tongue-in-cheek adult nostalgia. Today Hello Kitty’s image and products can be seen in the hands of everyone from small children to motorcycle gangs. Hello Kitty products range from stationery to stuffed animals to miniskirts, as well as a surprisingly popular “personal massager.” It’s often difficult to tell when Hello Kitty fans are being ironic, or even post-ironic: A website called Hello Kitty Hell, which mocks absurd Hello Kitty paraphernalia, ended up enticing flocks of Hello Kitty fans as readers.

In “Pink Globalization,” Christine R. Yano tries to explain how all this came to be. A professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii, she has spent a decade conducting research and interviews, and “Pink Globalization” is a text-heavy tome defined by long blocks of winding interviews and statistics, as well as much exploration of the ways that Sanrio exploits its top moneymaker. Unlike litigious American megabrands like DisneyDIS 0.00% for instance, Sanrio takes a much more laissez-faire approach: Since 2004, the company has allowed a cadre of modern artists to have their way with Hello Kitty’s visage without any mediation from the corporate giant.

Many feminists find Hello Kitty to be an example of a submissive, infantile undercurrent of Japanese culture. Other detractors see her simply as an example of manufactured corporate sweetness. Perhaps the best explanation for her popularity, however, was inadvertently provided by an overheated religious website called Hell of Kitty, which warned that the cat “invades children’s vulnerable hearts exactly through the weaponry of cuteness.” And who can resist that?

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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