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Saturday, Nov. 2, 2002
Cute, single, self-made millionaire girls
By AMY CHAVEZ
Japan wonders why the birth rate has plummeted. There are theories ranging from the fact that women aren't given painkillers during birth to the fact that women are waiting longer to get married. But the real reason women are not having babies is much simpler: This generation has grown up with Hello Kitty.
With Hello Kitty as a role model, it's no wonder girls just want to be cute, single and self-made millionaires. Hello Kitty doesn't need a husband and children to make her happy. Hello Kitty is perhaps Japan's most successful female entrepreneur, albeit most of her money comes from selling her body.
Or her head. Strangely, Hello Kitty's head is often sold separately in the form of pillows and cushions. Her head, with no body in sight, graces the tops of pencils and pens. I expect someday we will read the newspaper headline, "Millions of Hello Kitty bodies found in mass grave."
Hello Kitty is an undisputed icon. Mothers try to get their children to look like Hello Kitty by dressing them in Hello Kitty clothing and accessories galore. In Japan, where fashion extends to what you happen to be holding or leaning against, Hello Kitty is on all kinds of products, including the walls, to imbue you with Hello Kitty charm.
Kitty-chan, as she is called here, does have a boyfriend. You would think his name would be something like Nice to Meet You Kitty, but in a strange twist, perhaps a movement away from English conversation to English letter writing, his name is Dear Daniel. Although Hello Kitty has appeared with Dear Daniel in promotions around the world wearing Korean, Malaysian and Japanese wedding outfits, Hello Kitty is still not married. Talk about getting stood up at the altar! But Dear Daniel keeps coming back. Is this what we want to teach our girls? Maybe.
Promotions around the world have prompted Hello Kitty extremists to break out into Hello Kitty fistfights as they clamor to get these special edition products. On Kitty-chan's 25th birthday, just before becoming a "Christmas cake," a limited edition doll was released: Kitty-chan, alone, in a white wedding dress. Staying single is one thing, but are we women really so desperate as to marry ourselves? Maybe.
Since Hello Kitty has no children (although in her case having a litter is a tough decision -- it's all or nothing), we can speculate that she has been fixed. Or maybe she just doesn't want to go through the complicated process of naming all those children and deciding the kanji.
Why do people, especially adults, go to such great lengths to put Kitty-chan in their lives? One reason is Japan's herd mentality (bah-ah-ah) that if one person buys it, they all have to have it.
The other reason is kitty feng shui. Kitty "qi" is concentrated in certain places such as the bathroom -- a symbol of cleanliness -- thus complete Hello Kitty bathroom accessories are very popular, including toilet seat covers, bath mats and soap. Another place kitty qi accumulates is the desk -- a symbol of success -- thus a complete array of pencils, erasers and markers is available. Kitty qi in the body -- a symbol of health -- is concentrated in the feet (Hello Kitty socks and slippers), the chest (Hello Kitty aprons and T-shirts), and the hair (Hello Kitty hair accessories). Kitty-chan emblazoned on purses and handbags symbolizes kitty qi related to money and wealth. With over 15,000 Hello Kitty licensed products available, that's a lot of kitty qi.
With Japan's current economic downturn though, you would think Kitty-chan would be suffering from slow sales. Not true. If anything, it has encouraged her to come out with more compelling products people feel they must have (bah-ah-ah).
For Westerners, it's hard to understand the appeal of frivolous Hello Kitty goods. We would not, for example, buy the just-released Hello Kitty Light-up Angel on a Cloud for 3,800 yen (bah-ah-ah).
Instead, the Western crowd gives a collective barf.
Contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com