On the other side of the world in Los Angeles, a curator of a Hello Kitty exhibition shocked the world with a major bombshell this week. Cue the collective gasps when she declared that the famed Japanese kitty was not, in fact, a cat.
This surprised feline shows our shared reaction right there. But is that really the truth of it?
How did ‘cat’-astrophic mistake happen?
Anthropologist Christine R. Yano of the University of Hawaii was working on a commemorative exhibition on all things Hello Kitty at the Japanese American National Museum. The occasion: To celebrate the 40th year since the beloved Sanrio character was created. While Yano was doing some fact-checking, she unearthed details that she never knew about the Sanrio character.
Image: Hello Kitty/ Facebook
Yano had told the LA Times that she “was corrected — very firmly [that] Hello Kitty is not a cat. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She's never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it's called Charmmy Kitty.”
So Hello Kitty is actually a girl in the costume of a cat? Even singer Josh Groban couldn’t take the news.
Hello Kitty is a cat. She has whiskers and a cat nose. Girls don't look like that. Stop this nonsense.
— josh groban (@joshgroban) August 27, 2014
But less than a day after, Kotaku and RocketNews24 rang up the Sanrio Tokyo headquarters to do more sleuthing, only to find out that maybe this Kitty really is a cat after all.
Is Hello Kitty not a cat?
A Sanrio spokesperson told Kotaku that “it's going too far to say that Hello Kitty is not a cat. Hello Kitty is a personification of a cat.”
Similarly, a RocketNews24 writer was told that “We never said she was a human” when she phoned the Sanrio office in Tokyo. So what’s with the confused message then?
One simple explanation would be the case of mistranslation.
Image: Eva Air/ ST File
As Kotaku would argue, “[Hello Kitty]'s official profile never says she is human, and among cat lovers in Japan, it's very common for cats to be referred to as ‘girl’ or ‘boy … The reason for this is that by using terms like ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ for animals, they can personify them through vocabulary and raise them above the status of mere ‘pet’ to a member of the family.”
Another reason could simply be that in a multinational company as huge as Sanrio — for this corporation makes a staggering US$5 billion (S$6.25 billion) in retail sales yearly — it’s just too easy for one answer to be translated and explained in so many different ways.
This is the same company that doesn’t have just one unified answer to one frequently asked question: Why doesn’t Hello Kitty have a mouth?
Its English FAQ page says simply that “Hello Kitty speaks from her heart. She’s Sanrio's ambassador to the world and isn't bound to any particular language.”
Yet the Sanrio Town website lists a different explanation, provided by current Hello Kitty designer Yuko Yamaguchi to Time Magazine.
“It’s so that people who look at her can project their own feelings onto her face, because she has an expressionless face,” Yamaguchi told Time. “Kitty looks happy when people are happy. She looks sad when they are sad. For this psychological reason, we thought she shouldn’t be tied to any emotion – and that’s why she doesn’t have a mouth.”
Seriously, does it matter?
Calm down Kitty fans, for this is the stuff of fiction that we’re dealing with. This calls for a great deal of something we know as “the willing suspension of disbelief”.
After all, your favourite feline was created by the same team that dreamt of a flying dog that looks like a bunny (Cinnamoroll), a cat with antennas for whiskers (Chococat) and bunnies that are genius-level pastry chefs (Shirousa and Kurousa). They inhabit the world that really defies any logic for such adorable creatures to co-exist.
And there may be more things you may not have known about this kawaii anthropomorphic cat-girl.
Hello Kitty is a “perpetual third-grader” who doesn’t even live in Japan. She’s a Londoner whose actual name is Kitty White and she weighs “around three apples” and is of just “five apples” tall; The Straits Times estimates her actual height and weight to be of “1.8kg and 50cm” respectively.
Even as a forever-young little girl, she has an impossibly dreamy boyfriend named Dear Daniel, who had travelled from Africa and New York just to be with her. She also has a twin sister named Mimmy, a bizarrely dressed alter-ego named Ichigo Man, a pet feline named Charmmy Kitty and a pet hamster named Sugar.
So does it really matter whether Hello Kitty is a cat or a little girl who never ages? To be honest, the writer whose words you’re reading now isn’t even a fan of this cat-eared character.
But really, if you are already as enraptured by this said kawaii kitty, you’ll be all busy with your Hello Kitty collecting than to care.