Hello Kitty & Japanese Women’s Identity

Introduction

Hello, Kitty is a flagship character of Sanrio Company since 1974. Today, this well-elaborated image became one of the central influential factors, shaping the identity of a new Japanese woman. Hello, Kitty’s character is remarkable due to its cuteness and adorableness. This is its main trait that catches the attention of Japanese women so effectively. In the following paper, the role of Hello Kitty and commodity cuteness in the construction of Japanese women’s identity will be observed in detail. Overall, after the evaluation of facts, it appears that beginning from their childhood, Japanese females are subjected to the effect of the culture of kawaii cuteness through Hello Kitty character, which shapes their way of thinking regarding personal appearance, sexuality, and behavior.

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The History of Hello Kitty Character in Japan

Hello Kitty was created by Yuko Shimizu from the Sanrio Company in 1974, and quickly became one of the most popular cuteness commodities in the Japanese economy. “Created by the Japanese merchandising company Sanrio and known internationally as Hello Kitty, Kitty White is a small, round-faced, white cartoon cat with black eyes, a yellow nose, no mouth, and a red bow perched on her left ear”. Since the day of its creation, this flagship became an extremely successful image. The Sanrio Company created the character as a popular image that would target the female and children audience with a purpose of advertising the company products. Initially, the image appeared on children’s items. Among them were toys, coin purses, bar pins, and toy wristwatches. In the 1980s, Hello Kitty became world-famous.

The 1990s became another important point in the history of Hello Kitty’s popularity. During that period, the Sanrio Company decided to begin marketing products with Hello Kitty characters to adult women. A variety of items with Hello Kitty such as makeup compacts and handbags were introduced to women as retro objects, appealing to “to the senses of both nostalgia and irony, coinciding with the rise of Japanese kawaii, or “cuteness,” culture”. The success of these products was mind-blowing, which could be explained by the fact that the generation of young girls, who used to love their Hello Kitty items in childhood, continued to do so in their adulthood, and for that reason, they did not mind using goods with childlike images.

In the 2000s, Japanese females, both children and adults, were especially fascinated by this character. Advertizing specialists expanded their vision on using Hello Kitty, and started implementing it for promoting the most diversified categories of female-oriented goods such as clothing, footwear, cosmetics, pretty pretties, adornments, personal care objects, supply cupboards, finely-crafted luggage, diamond-encrusted watches, and even food.

Today, the main secret behind the popularity of Hello Kitty is its cuteness and adorability. Women and girls in Japan are fascinated by the idea to look sweet, cute, and attractive, and they are also magnetized by the objects that have a power of being lovely. This explains why after almost forty years since the day of its creation, Hello Kitty is still at the pick of its popularity. The status of this character has become so high that now it is viewed as the representation of Japanese femininity.

Kawaii as an Important Outcome of Hello Kitty

The creation of such cuteness culture-based symbols as Hello Kitty caused the formation of a new perception in Japanese society. This perception acquired the title of ‘kawaii’. According to Burdelski and Mitsuhashi, the term ‘kawaii’ means “‘cute’, ‘adorable’, and ‘lovable’, is an important aspect of Japanese material culture and a key affect word used to describe things that are small, delicate, and immature”. Kawaii affects Japanese culture, and the way particular representatives of Japanese society act to a great extent. Particularly, Japanese females demonstrate their subjectivity to kawaii in such multimodal variables as talk, material objects they own, embodied actions, participation frameworks, evaluating children’s actions, thoughts, and feelings, and making assessments of the other objects and entities in the surrounding world.

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Since the 1970s, the country has undergone a kawaii-based boom. The notions and perceptions connected with kawaii were spread through mass media, printed advertising, promo actions, etc. Japanese animation and comics for both children and adults have been imbued by kawaii-related images, characters, and surroundings. Kawaii characters such as Hello Kitty appeal to the audience due to their loveliness, innocence, helplessness, and cuteness. Besides, kawaii-based Hello Kitty has no mouth. So, it is not able to speak, which amuses the wide public even more than the rest of this image’s characteristics.

Commodity cuteness in Japan is closely connected with kawaii. Through this important notion, people percept and evaluate the objects from the surrounding world. This is especially so with Japanese women. In case they find that particular objects or services have a feature of being kawaiily inspired, they ultimately desire to acquire such things and have them in their possession. Marketing specialists play with this feature of women in the country. They not only try to place Hello Kitty symbols on every good or service description they sell, but they also mention that by means of buying this or that particular object or service, a lady may find herself being more kawaii-characteristic. Being caught on this marketing trick, Japanese women are regularly encouraged to say “hello” kawaii, and “goodbye” money. According to the opinion of Japanese sociologists such a position by Japanese women in spending family money has recently become the reason for the growth of divorces’ rate in the country4. This factor along with financial wasting is believed to be the most significant negative outcome of kawaii-based cultural perceptions.

Kawaii has spread around Japan so tremendously that it can be seen everywhere. Kawaii features can be found in Japanese toys, theme parks, architecture buildings, clothes, mobile telephones, snacks, bread, wristwatches, key rings, and even handwriting techniques. Kawaii is often associated with particular social groups in Japan, including infants, adolescent boys with female facial features, the elderly, and of course, cute women. Thus, kawaii, which was initially created for children, became a widely popularized symbol in Japanese society. This is explained by mental peculiarities of Japanese people. Particularly, they are considered to be workaholics, and for that reason, from time to time, they look for ways to release themselves from endless responsibilities. In this vein, kawaii culture along with such cute characters as Hello Kitty becomes just what they need to achieve the purpose of entertaining and amusing themselves to have an emotional relief after the hard work.

The Impact of Hello Kitty on Japanese Women Identity

Kawaii culture including commodity cuteness, seen in such characters as Hello Kitty, is especially associated with Japanese femininity. It is indicative that the new standards in kawaii perceptions are always introduced by women. A special role in the process of developing kawaii culture is played by young girls from Tokyo. They are the first to ‘develop’ and publicly show new concepts of kawaii, which are demonstrated in behavior, customs, habits, service standards in public places including cafes and restaurants, clothing styles, and the way of communicating information both verbally and nonverbally.

At the present time, Hello Kitty is enumerated among the images that shape the identity of Japanese women. This character is believed to be the ultimate symbol of womanliness, cuteness, and comeliness in Japan. The character is accepted by the female population of the country as an idol that establishes main fashion and behavior trends. Particularly, cute and adorable Hello Kitty is linked to a feminized position, which is seen in passivity, innocence, being girlish, and having Lolita sexuality. The character sends women a message of what they should be, and what they should do to become appealing and popular.

Beginning from their childhood, Japanese females are surrounded by Hello Kitty images everywhere. Their mothers buy toys and clothing with this character for them. They see Hello Kitty on TV, and in computer games. Later, as they start going to school, little Japanese girls receive their school supplies with Hello Kitty including school bags, rulers, pens, pencils, copybooks, diaries, pen cases, and even rubbers. At the same time, these girls are dressed in clothes and footwear with Hello Kitty symbols. As young ladies become grown-ups, they start having handbags, and cosmetics with the character. This list can be continued for long. The main idea, which is seen behind this long enumeration, is in the fact that Hello Kitty surrounds Japanese females, and shapes their very identity.

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The above-mentioned facts help see why Japanese females tend to have a perception of womanhood similar to the concept of the Hello Kitty image. They simply have no other options or they have those options, but those options fail to be so appealing. As a result, Japanese women believe that they should be glamorously dressed in pinkish clothing, and have a girlish look just like Hello Kitty character. They also think that their makeup should be as childish as possible. In addition, they trust that their conduct should be naïve and dolly. Sexuality is seen by them also from the point of view of Hello Kitty personage as they tend to think that men are attracted by pink color, short skirts, pony-tails hairstyles, childlike risibility, friskiness, and frolic.

The Examples of the Way Hello Kitty Affects Japanese Femininity

First, speaking about particular examples of how Hello Kitty affects Japanese femininity, it is important to mention behavioral peculiarities. Under the influence of Hello Kitty cuteness trends, Japanese women prefer behaving extremely cute, and even artificially greasy. An extreme version of such behavior has a title ‘burikko’. According to Burdelski and Mitsuhashi, this word means ‘fake child’. Burikko conduct is demonstrated by a woman, who plays innocence using speaking in a high-pitched, nasalized voice; using baby-talk lexicon and register; covering her mouth by hands while speaking; putting her hands to the cheeks when smiling, or modestly lowering her head during talking to somebody.

Next, the other example of the impact of Hello Kitty on Japanese femininity is seen in modern fashion trends in women’s clothing. This is how one of the successful Japanese fashion designers describes the key points for the success of her new collection:

All this over a kitten with an oversized face and few details save for black button eyes, a yellow button nose, six straight whiskers and a red bow cocked on her left ear. There are few details, no mouth, claws, paws, stripes, spots, or discernible fur. And it all adds up to a cat with a sweet, open expression.

Not only Japanese girls, but even women try to make their clothing look as childish as possible. The more bows and ruffles a dress or a skirt has, the faster it will be bought. In addition, women are very demanding regarding the color of their clothing. The most popular color is pink with every tincture. It is interesting that pale pink colors are less popular than bright ones because women want their clothing to ‘shout’ about their kawaii mentality. The other popular colors are bright yellow, red, orange, violet, scarlet, green, purple, turquoise and poppy-red. Besides, shapes mean a lot to Japanese women as well. Particularly, they prefer extremely short skirts to be able to look like little schoolgirls. They also like minimalism in the cut of their dresses, trousers, blouses, coats, etc. One more remarkable feature of their stock of clothes is in the abundance of décor and pretty pretties. Under the influence of Hello Kitty, Japanese women become outfitted as cartoon characters. They even dye their hair in artificial colors such as pink, purple, and poppy-red.

One more example of the impact of Hello Kitty on Japanese women’s identity is seen in the new idea about sexuality. Nowadays, women believe that their attractiveness is directly connected with childish behavior. They think that being excessively shy or looking childishly- embarrassed is the key to success among men. Moreover, women believe that speaking few words is also important for their sexuality. This is explained by the fact that their idol, Hello Kitty, has no mouth, and for that reason, it is considered to be completely silent.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, it should be stated that Hello Kitty and commodity cuteness play a very important role in the construction of Japanese women’s identity. When in 1974, the Sanrio Company introduced this character at the market of goods for children, its leaders could hardly imagine how significant its impact will be in the future. After a few decades since its creation, Hello Kitty became the ultimate symbol of womanliness, cuteness, and comeliness in Japan. Today, Japanese women believe that the cuteness and loveliness of this cartoon-like character is the best example of femininity. For that reason, they try their best to show themselves from the same playful, sweet, and lovely angle. This tendency is reflected in the way they look (their make-up, footwear and clothing), and in the way they act and talk.

References

Burdelski, M., & Mitsuhashi, K. (2010). “She thinks you’re kawaii”: Socializing affect, gender, and relationships in a Japanese preschool. Language in Society, 39(1), 65-93.

Fischer, B. K. (2011). HELLO KITTY. Boston Review, 36(2), 67-69.

Hello Kitty. (2013). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Web,

Solomon, W. (2003). Hello kitty fashions again the cat’s meow. Web.

Stange, M., & Sloan, J. (Eds.). (2011). Encyclopedia of women in today’s world. (1st ed., Vols. 1-4). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Yano, C. (2009). Wink on pink: Interpreting Japanese cute as it grabs the global headlines. The Journal of Asian Studies, 68(3): 681–688.

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