Who is only five apples high and has no mouth — yet is one of the country's biggest cultural ambassadors? None other than the reigning feline queen of kawaii (cute) herself, Hello Kitty.

With the creators of Hello Kitty celebrating the iconic cat's 40th anniversary on Nov. 1, it seems an appropriate time to examine the evolution of a feline who started out life known only as "the white kitten with no name" ("namae no nai shiroi koneko") and has since gone on to establish an international following that is as red-hot as the bow on her left ear.

Although the country's pop culture is garnering interest worldwide through the increasing popularity of manga and cosplay, Hello Kitty is one icon that trumps all in terms of visibility.