How old is Hello Kitty, you ask? The simple answer is: 40, except she does not age.
In celebration of Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the “Hello! Explore the Supercute World of Hello Kitty” at EMP Museum organized by Sanrio, Inc. and the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) gives you a full rundown of the beloved character from obvious facts to insider’s notes.
“It’s been a fun exhibition,” said Jacob McMurray, senior curator of the museum. “You see all this and you can’t help to have a smile on your face.”
Sharing the happiness of friends and family has always been the mission of 87-year-old Shintaro Tsuji, the founder of Sanrio who created Hello Kitty in 1974. It started with her debut on a tiny coin purse in 1976, which is displayed at the museum, then it went on to stationary, household appliances, fashion items, you name it, Hello Kitty is on it.
If you are a fan of Hello Kitty and have ever dreamed of living in a world filled with Hello Kitty, EMP is currently where your dream comes true. The exhibition is the first large-scale Hello Kitty retrospective in the United States, which displays over 600 unique pieces from Sanrio’s archive and more than 40 mixed media works.
At the exhibition’s opening night on November 13, despite the pouring rain, a long line was formed outside of the museum. Tickets were sold out a few days prior to the event.
Many fans agree that Hello Kitty’s cuteness, friendliness, and of course, her red bow, are the reasons that make her so approachable. Most importantly, having a history of 40 years, Hello Kitty is a part of many childhood memories and each fan has at least one item that they hold dearly to their hearts.
“She is just so friendly,” said Sharon Acacio who went to the event with her husband, daughters, and niece. “I was in fourth grade and the first item I had was a white Hello Kitty pencil box. I still have it.”
Among all the Hello Kitty designs, Acacio said she likes the original design with red as the primary color and the apples the most.
“But I love the new designs too,” she said. “And the bags, I like them all.”
She thought the opening night was an eye-opening experience for her—not only because of the amount of Hello Kitty items displayed, but also the fun it provided for her family.
“We waited really long to do the activities but I think it was worth it,” she said. “We would do it again.”
Melissa Feng, whose favorite item is a Hello Kitty doll with a stuffed bunny, said, “I like how cute and simple she is. You can put her on anything and it instantly turns cute.”
The exhibition brought back childhood memories, Feng said. “The art exhibition upstairs has many collectible items you see as a kid,” she said. “It’s cool to see them again.”
Feng’s friend from college, Linda Doan, said: “She is something I grew up with and she’s so cute. I have three lunchboxes and I have had them for years.”
For the 7-year-old Kendall Sezto, Hello Kitty’s red bow is the reason to love her. But nothing beats her T-shirt with a Matsumoto Shave Ice Hello Kitty from Hawai‘i, which matches with her sister and cousins.
Her cousin, Chloe Vicente, 7, said: “Hello Kitty is all about friendship. She has good friends and she is nice.”
If you are able to look beyond the cuteness at the exhibition, you may also pick up new perspectives on the cultural differences of Hello Kitty fans across the world.
For instance, school-oriented products such as stationary, backpacks, and water bottles tend to play a more important role for students in Asia than the U.S. because many of them have to wear school uniforms, leaving a vital role for such items as ways to express themselves.
At the same time, while Sanrio has to be cautious not to send the wrong messages to children in the United States—branding Hello Kitty on controversial products such as fruity alcoholic beverages, for example—people in Asia simply think it is cute and do not see the controversy.
“The design and aesthetic that’s popular in Asia doesn’t always apply to North America,” said Jill Koch, senior vice president of brand management and marketing of Sanrio. “What’s interesting about Sanrio is they know how meaningful it is to localize each region and allow a lot of flexibility and freedom in collaboration.”
The exhibition is on view at EMP through May 15, 2016. For more information, visit emp.org.