Japan’s most beloved icon, Hello Kitty, is not a cat. Or is she? We don’t even know her nationality. Is she British or Japanese? Is she human? Or is she perhaps the daughter of a survivor of the Island of Dr. Moreau?
A recent report in the Los Angeles Times which quoted an anthropologist as saying she was told by Sanrio that one of Japan’s most beloved mascots, Hello Kitty, is not a feline (Felis catus) left fans reeling in shock.
Christine R. Yano, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii and author of Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific, which was published last year by Duke University Press, told the Los Angeles Times, “…Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.”
The revelation caused a wave of shock and disbelief—and ruined childhoods—throughout social media that has even captured the attention of Japanese national broadcaster, NHK.
“Hello Kitty is a character born in the motif of a cat, but is a 100% anthropomorphic girl. We welcome this understanding of Hello Kitty by people throughout the world,” said Sanrio when reached for comment by NHK.
Even Peanut’s character, Snoppy, took to Twitter to confirm that he was, in fact, a dog and not a little boy.
Yano also told the Los Angeles Times that Hello Kitty is British and was created during a time in which Japanese women were fascinated with British culture.
They loved the idea of Britain. It represented the quintessential idealized childhood, almost like a white picket fence. So the biography was created exactly for the tastes of that time,” said Yano.
Sanrio’s official biography of Hello Kitty also confirms her as being British. However, according to an article in the Atlantic Wire written by Jake Adelstein, Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan in English and Japanese (ハローキティの英語で紹介する日本) written by Koji Kuwabara suggests differently. In the book, which explains Japanese culture, Hello Kitty is seen showing her American boyfriend, Dear Daniel around Japan and inviting him into her home, in which the floor is covered with tatami mats, and introducing him to her family, who all reside in Japan. In the book, Hello Kitty demonstrates such a wide knowledge of Japanese culture and customs that the reader can’t help but assume that she is, in fact, Japanese.
“That’s the kind of stuff the Chinese say when they pirate our national treasures and goods. It’s outrageous. And unforgivable,” said Tatsuya Nakajima, the leader of right-wing group Junshinkai when asked what he thought about the idea that Hello Kitty wasn’t Japanese.
Because Hello Kitty has pointed ears, whiskers, and a fluffy tail, it’s easy to understand why people would question the idea that she isn’t a cat. Japan Subculture Research Center staff lend their voices to the debate.
Angela Erika Kubo: I honestly don’t give a fuck. I honestly doubt that there is any sort of plastic surgery or genetic manipulation out there that can turn a little girl into a furry creature with no mouth. It’s no wonder Hello Kitty weighs three apples—she’s so severely malnourished since it looks like she’s unable to eat. Also, the fact that Hello Kitty owns a cat herself doesn’t mean anything. Humans keep monkeys as pets and genetically both species are remarkably similar.
Jake Adelstein: I believe that Hello Kitty is not a cat. She is a human being with cat DNA and represents a failed attempt by the Japanese government, the Ministry of Health & Welfare, to create a new breed of Japanese woman who would be silent, fecund, and give birth to litters of Japanese cat people, thus solving Japan’s declining birth rate and growing rat problem at the same time. If you’re familiar with the history of Japan’s biological warfare unit and how they all went to work for the Ministry of Health after “the reverse course” during the occupation—it’s all very clear. Technically, I would classify her as Homo catus.