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Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012

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Who dat cat?: Sakumi Otomo, a 17-year-old high school student, hugs a stuffed Hello Kitty at her home in Ebetsu, Hokkaido. KYODO

Nearly four decades on, Hello Kitty continues to entrance young girls


By ERIKO AOYAGI
Kyodo

Yumi Shida, a 15-year-old model for a popular teen magazine, never feels lonely, even when she has to work away from her family — if she has some Hello Kitty goods with her.

Hello Kitty is "even a god for me," said Shida, a first-year high school student, who calls herself "a kittyler" — an enthusiastic fan of the character created by the Sanrio Co.

From childhood, the native of Iwate Prefecture has surrounded herself with all kinds of Hello Kitty goods, including pajamas and towels.

Even now, she never forgets to bring her pink Hello Kitty suitcase to work.

The suitcase, a gift from her grandmother, is one of her most prized possessions. Hello Kitty "has been like a member of my family," Shida said.

A model for Pichilemon, a fashion magazine targeting junior high school girls, she once appeared in it dressed like Hello Kitty with a red polka-dot ribbon on her head.

Shida says one of the cutest things about Hello Kitty is her weight, which according to Sanrio is equal to just three apples. She also likes that Hello Kitty's face has never been changed, despite the character having been created nearly 40 years ago.

Hello Kitty was created in 1974 and became an icon among girls, especially those in high school, during the 1980s as the character adopted the fashion and lifestyle trends of young girls of the time.

Of course, Hello Kitty is not just beloved by Japanese. She is popular among girls and adults worldwide, including celebrities such as American pop singer Lady Gaga and model Paris Hilton.

Roughly 50,000 different kinds of products with Hello Kitty designs are sold in more than 100 countries around the globe.

According to Sanrio, the red ribbon on Kitty's head symbolizes the hope of bonding with people and enlarging the circle of friendship.

Sakumi Otomo, a 17-year-old high school student in Ebetsu, Hokkaido, is another avid kittyler who says her dream is "to become a Hello Kitty" one day.

Otomo said she loves the character because it is fashionable, loved by people all over the world and can comfort everyone.

She said that even after a tough day, she is immediately able to relax once she returns to her Hello Kitty product-filled room.

"Since Kitty doesn't have a mouth, it seems to me that she is trying to understand all my sad feelings," Otomo said.

To make herself look as much like Hello Kitty as possible, Otomo ties her hair back in two tails and wears a ribbon on the left side.

Otomo said she has so far collected more than 30 different kinds of ribbons.

Yuko Yamaguchi, a third-generation Hello Kitty designer, said she assumes girls can easily identify with Hello Kitty because it is a character based on the concept of living in a real world.

"Kitty loves whatever girls love," Yamaguchi said. "I suppose there are no characters ever which are created to live in real life. Whatever Kitty has, has surprised fans and the fans have supported it."

Yamaguchi produced a monotone Kitty in 1987 for high school students, her first challenge at designing a Kitty character that targeted girls of that age, as Kitty had been more popular among younger girls until then.

"I came up with the idea after receiving a letter from a high school student who wrote that she doesn't want to graduate from Kitty," Yamaguchi said. "So I introduced a fashion that was popular among high school girls back then."

Among the recent designs Yamaguchi says she "put glasses on Kitty and . . . got the idea from Ms. Nozomi Sasaki (a popular Japanese fashion model)."

"What I love is to watch girls shine together with Kitty," Yamaguchi added.



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