Some have ridiculed her taste. Others have called her infantile. Yet Asako Kanda, a 31-year-old receptionist at a crafts and culture school in Tokyo, has never had any qualms about her long-running love affair with Hello Kitty.
Like many other women of her generation, Kanda’s infatuation with the now world-famous Sanrio character began when she was in elementary school.
First she bought a few stationery items, like pencils and erasers featuring motifs of the mouthless feline. By the time she turned 10 or 11, she had become so hooked that she made a Hello Kitty mug in pottery class and an embroidered Hello Kitty apron in home-economics class.
Most girls would just stop right there — and move on to other icons like rock singers, movie stars or pop divas. But Kanda remained faithful to That Cat.
“Kitty has always been with me, almost subconsciously,” Kanda said recently at her apartment in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, where she is surrounded by more than 100 Hello Kitty soft toys she has collected over the years. “I worry what would happen to these ‘kids’ if we are hit by an earthquake.”
When Kanda married her longtime boyfriend, Hiroyuki, in June 2000, several of her friends sent them Hello Kitty-themed telegrams of congratulation.
Also, to mark her and Hiroyuki’s big day, she asked her mother to make cuddly-toy versions of a Hello Kitty bride and groom for their wedding reception. That was because the makers, Sanrio Co. — which has countless Hello Kitty-themed products, from 10 yen chocolate marshmallows to a 10-million yen diamond-studded platinum doll — back then still had a blind spot over their top cat’s nuptials. Now, though, that’s changed.
Meanwhile, back at Kanda’s apartment, all is pink, pink and more pink, thanks not only to the decor, but also to domestic appliances including a Hello Kitty toaster, a Hello Kitty electric fan and a Hello Kitty frying pan.
But hasn’t the thought ever crossed her mind that she has been “suckered” by Sanrio into buying these products — at inflated prices?
“Well, I sometimes feel like that,” replies Kanda, who nevertheless adds that she feels antsy if she’s not surrounded by Hello Kitty gear.
More seriously, Kanda — who hosts a “Kitty-chan Fan Club” Web site — also says that her furry friend has been her staunchest ally during some real low points in her life, such as when her father became ill and underwent an operation a few years ago. “Looking at my Hello Kitty handkerchief, I felt as if she were calling out to me, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be fine,’ ” Kanda recalls.
It was also her Hello Kitty pillow — shaped like the face of the character — that gave Kanda hope and support when one of her bosses was sexually harassing her. (She made a formal complaint to their employer over his behavior, which included asking her out to a hotel and demanding she watch an adult video of his, and the man was recently transferred to another branch.)
“I make myself clear when I need to, and I can be selfish at times,” Kanda says firmly, adding that her love of Kitty is not synonymous with submissiveness or infantilism in her own character.
Hiroyuki, 32, who keeps her in check only when she overspends on Hello Kitty, basically has no problem about his wife’s love of the character. “Sometimes I feel envious of her,” he says. “It looks like a good hobby to have.”
But hasn’t she had enough Hello Kitty in her life by now?
“No,” Kanda says without hesitation, adding that her life’s dream is to live in a Hello Kitty-shaped house, with two ears sticking out of the roof. But her ultimate wish — which Sanrio hasn’t marketed yet — is to have a funeral Kitty-style with a Hello Kitty-shaped tombstone.
“True, there is a part of me that wants to keep a child’s mind,” Kanda says. “But what’s wrong with saying what I find cute is cute? . . . Kitty is my life.”