Hello Kitty … for the guys

Hello Kitty is a trademark of the Sanrio company in Tokyo. Created in 1974, she’s become internationally popular. She is also deeply associated with a girlish culture of a very traditional sort.

Hello Kitty is pretty cute; she shows up on laptops

And on bags

And watches

Sanrio Character Wrist Watch Vol. 2 - Hello Kitty

Her face is a part of some pretty expensive jewelry:

Today the head of Sanrio, who developed the line, has announced that it is seeking larger markets.

“Young men these days grew up with character goods. That generation feels no embarrassment about wearing Hello Kitty.”
Sanrio Co spokesman Kazuo Tohmatsu, announcing that Hello Kitty products for men, such as T-shirts and watches, will go on sale in Japan, other Asian countries and the U.S. next year.

In addition to the fascinating idea of marketing a product, one deeply embedded in a traditionally understood ultra-feminine context, to young men, there is the discussion of it in Japan Today. One thread in the discussion concerns questions about Western views of Asia, and who speaks for whom, but another addresses the question of whether joung Japanese men are becoming more feminine.

Though it is so easy to miss the cultural subtleties in a discussion like this, it looks as though the association with young men becoming more feminine is their being childish. Another factor that complicates understanding the discussion is that it looks as at least some Japanese are very sensitive about a Western stereotype of the Japanese as childish.

Since it is hard to tell from a  short newspaper article what is really going  on culturally in another country, let me just suggest readers have a look for themselves.  It may be a case where market forces actually work to make girls’ things more acceptable to boys.   Or  not.

12 thoughts on “Hello Kitty … for the guys

  1. Yeah . . . see, I think that full-grown women should feel embarassed about wearing hello kitty. So I think that this is a horrible idea, but for different reasons than most probably would.

  2. Hi Cara,
    I’m not sure I share your objection. Hello kitty is, as I remarked, clearly associated with a kind of girlish culture. I would have thought that there are many reasons why an adult woman would wear a piece of the jewelry, from social cluelessness to a desire to deconstruct age-ist boundaries.

    Am I missing your point?

  3. Hello Kitty has long been popular with alternative and punk culture — not just everything girly.

  4. I think my biggest problem with Hello Kitty and most of her cohorts is that they have no mouth….My 17 year old daughter and I debate this frequently. (Obviously she thinks I’m wrong…) I just feel in my bones that it is somehow subversive and oppressive, especially considering the country of origin, to produce a whole line of products for girls that have no mouth to speak with-it just really bothers me.

  5. Cleo: Here is a collection of other characters in the Hello Kitty franchise, some in masculine dress and still yet mouthless. Presumably all these characters are marketed toward young girls, but if I’m following you correctly, the collection should address your concern.

    And here is a Hello Kitty with a mouth! ;)

  6. Small or non-existent mouths is a completely ordinary feature of anime (and especially chibi) characters–male and female. I feel like someone could only take offense here only if they just looked at Hello Kitty in isolation and lacked any familiarity with Japanese cartoons.

  7. I used to live in Calgary, Alberta, where there are 4 or 5 Hello Kitty-oriented shops, and I would lament that they didn’t have shirts for boys, because I’d wear one.

  8. Cleo, I take your objection seriously, even though it appears there’s a convention of mouthlessness in anime. Apparently there’s a manufacturer’s explanation, which reinforces the idea that something needs explaining. The explanation is that Kitty speaks to you from her heart and so doesn’t need a mouth.

    I spent some time wondering why I hadn’t picked up on this, and I decided that Kitty is, after all, a cat. I do understand that she has a life in children’s fantasies (and maybe punk ones also) but so do all sorts of non-speaking animals. And speaking just doesn’t have the role for cats that it has for girls/women.

    Let me recognize that cats might be said to speak. In fact, I have a siamese cat who over the last several weeks has started to comment on everything. It is cute – and irritating, especially when she shouts. But the thing is, it isn’t an integral part of my really close relationship with her.

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