Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific
By Christine R. Yano (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2013, 336 pp., $24.95, paperback, $89.95 cloth)
For ardent fans or the casual Hello Kitty consumer, Christine Yano’s book, “Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific” has a little something for everyone.
The book focuses on Hello Kitty’s influence outside of Japan, mainly in the United States and Asia, although some reference is made to Latin America. Yano examines Sanrio’s market strategies to spread not just the feline image but the concept of purchasing a certain emotion with Hello Kitty such as “friendship” and “happiness.”
She also explains how Hello Kitty fits into Japan’s “kawaii” culture, which loosely translates into “cuteness,” and how this ties into the “pink” globalization of Japanese products. The pinkness of Hello Kitty, Yano notes, not only connotes “kawaii” but is embedded with the concept of “sexy,” similar to the way school girl uniforms have become sexualized.
No Hello Kitty book would be complete without the voices of the fans, and Yano interviewed a wide range of people, mostly women, that included Caucasians, Asian Americans and Latinas.
But as with anything this popular, there is a flip side, and Yano includes a chapter on the Hello Kitty critics as well as the subversives, who have used the image in pornography or punk rock iconography.
An interesting aspect of Yano’s research includes reference to Japan’s push in the 1970s to compete on the global market with products that were mukokuseki or without nationality. A good example would be electronic items.
Around that time in 1976, Sanrio gave Hello Kitty a backstory that explained that Kitty’s last name was White and that she lived in London with her father George, mother Mary, an identical twin sister Mimmy, grandfather Anthony and grandmother Margaret — all of which, with the exception of Mimmy, are names taken from British royalty.
Yano argues that this can still be considered mukokuseki because in most cases, anything but a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant is considered “ethnic culture” by most people.
Another controversial point that Yano argues is that Hello Kitty is “neither Japanese nor a cat; she is a kyarakuta (or character),” imbued with a personality and life as if human.
In the appendix, Yano provides a Sanrio/Hello Kitty timeline, starting with the establishment of the Yamanishi Silk Center Company in 1960, to the birth of Hello Kitty and the various designers that breathed life into the character.
A second appendix outlines the various artists that participated in Hello Kitty’s 35th anniversary exhibit and catalogue.
Whether one sees the Hello Kitty phenomenon as part of Japan’s “soft power” or a negative representation of Japan’s superficiality, Hello Kitty is here to stay, and the book would be worth a read to see how the Hello Kitty phenomenon has influenced the American way of life in obvious and not so obvious ways.