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Hello Kitty not a cat: Anthropologist talks about revelation that sparked Internet frenzy

by Take Two®

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 09: Hello Kitty arrives at the 1st Annual Children Mending Hearts Style Sunday on June 9, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Children Mending Hearts) John Sciulli/Getty Images for Children Mendin

If someone were to ask what Hello Kitty is it wouldn't be too farfetched to think the answer might be ... a cat.

Well, she's a little more nuanced than that.

Earlier this week, the country's foremost Hello Kitty expert said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that the little Japanese icon was not a cat.

Thee were some additional details that left people's mouths agape--Hello Kitty is British and her real name is Kitty White.

Social media went a bit bananas over the news.

https://twitter.com/RedCarpetLuke/status/505384414935670784

https://twitter.com/joshgroban/status/504751676939841539

https://twitter.com/lizasoberano/status/505278548521648128

https://twitter.com/Design_Week/status/505386121573183488

The woman behind this revelation is Christine Yano, an anthropologist with the University of Hawaii who studies Japanese pop culture.

Her recent book is called "Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty's Trek Across the Pacific."

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

How do we know Hello Kitty is not a cat?

As an anthropologist I was looking at the image. Hello Kitty is never on all fours, she doesn’t do cat-like things so in my mind I thought she doesn’t look cattish to me. She has a pet cat named Charmmy Kitty.

I’m also serving as curator for an exhibit on Hello Kitty that opens in October at the Japanese American National Museum and in the course of working with Sanrio and the museum I had written a script that called her, in passing, "Sanrio’s feline, Sanrio’s cat" and I was corrected by the company.

So what is she?

She is officially "a friend, an icon, a celebrity and maybe even a girl."

Could you have ever imagined you would cause such a stir?

Not at all. And let me just say I did not create it.

And this notion of Hello Kitty as whatever I said--a friend, an icon, a celebrity and maybe even a girl--is right there on Sanrio’s website; this is not something that new.

It was also revealed this week that Hello Kitty is from London. Why does the Hello Kitty character have British roots?

I placed this in the context of 1970s Japan. She was created in 1974 by Japanese company Sanrio. And at that time I think there was a certain fascination with things British. I think in that context it makes sense.  

Is this typical Japanese culture, that they do things on more of a surreal level than here, where Mighty Mouse is a mouse and Daffy Duck is a duck?

That sense of fantasy in Japan is strong. Not everything has to make perfect logical sense. But things can be done in the spirit of play. It allows them a certain kind of creativity, which is wonderful and that’s what Hello Kitty represents. 

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