Don't Be Silly, Hello Kitty Is a Cat

Earlier today, numerous websites reported that Hello Kitty is not a cat. That's not only an oversimplification, it's also not quite true. Hello Kitty is a feline—just an anthropomorphic one, Sanrio told Kotaku.

The whole Hello-Kitty-is-not-a-cat thing was set off by an L.A. Times article on an upcoming Hello Kitty at the Japanese American National Museum.

Of course, Hello Kitty is a character that has come to represent Japanese cute, but isn't the point of personification giving animals human characteristics? I mean, do we really need to point out things like real crickets don't have top hats and umbrellas like Jiminy Cricket?

When Kotaku called Sanrio's Tokyo headquarters today and asked whether or not Hello Kitty was indeed a cat, a spokesperson explained, "Hello Kitty was done in the motif of a cat. It's going too far to say that Hello Kitty is not a cat. Hello Kitty is a personification of a cat."

The specific word that the Sanrio spokesperson used to describe Hello Kitty was "gijinka" (擬人化), which means "anthropomorphization" or "personification."

One again, to clarify, I asked the Sanrio spokesperson, "Then, it would be going too far to say that Hello Kitty was not a cat?" The spokesperson replied, "Yes, that would be going too far."

In short, you cannot remove the cat element from Hello Kitty. So, i t goes without saying that Hello Kitty is not a house cat like Tom from Tom and Jerry. Well, Mickey Mouse isn't a mouse like Jerry, either. He can drive a car. Over the years, he's had various jobs. He even has a pet—a dog named Pluto. But, Mickey Mouse is indeed a mouse, just like Hello Kitty is a cat.

Many of the headline covering this L.A. Times article called Hello Kitty "human." Yet, Yano never says that Hello Kitty is human. She simply states that Hello Kitty is a girl. That corresponds with Hello Kitty's official profile, which says the character is a "cheerful and nice girl" (明るくて、優しい女のコ or "akarukute, yasashii onna no ko").

The character's official profile never says she is human, and among cat lovers in Japan, it's very common for cats to be referred to as "girl" or "boy," instead of by the Japanese gender markers designated for animals (namely, "osu" or 雄 for "male" animals and "mesu" or 雌 for female animals). The reason for this is that by using terms like "girl" or "boy" for animals, they can personify them through vocabulary and raise them above the status of mere "pet" to a member of the family.

Part of the argument that Hello Kitty was not a cat centered around her having a cat for a pet. There's a long tradition of anthropomorphic characters with animal pets. Heck, Minnie Mouse has a pet cat. Yes, a mouse has a cat for a pet. Hello suspension of disbelief! In both the Disney universe and the Sanrio universe, there's a clear separation between the pet animal and the anthropomorphic animal character.

Then, there's the name. It's obvious, but "Kitty" means "cat" in English, but "kitty" or "kitten" in Japanese is "koneko" (子猫 or 仔猫 or 小猫). So, what's the cat connection for Japan? Wouldn't "Kitty" simply sound like a character's name to the Japanese? Maybe, but in 2009, a Sanrio spokesperson appearing on Japanese television show Megami no Marche said that in around 1975, the character was named "Kitty" after Alice's pet cat in Through the Looking-Glass. This probably explains why Hello Kitty lives in the United Kingdom. It also helps explain why you cannot take the cat out of Hello Kitty.

Even without all this, when talking with Sanrio earlier today, I pointed out that most Japanese people would understand Hello Kitty as a cat character (Yes, I also believe anyone in any country would understand that). But nobody would mistake her for an actual cat. Just like nobody would mistake the countless characters from American cartoons as actual animals, or the numerous anthropomorphized animals from fables and folklore.

That is what makes the fact this "Hello-Kitty-is-not-a-cat" notion became a story and then went viral so darn surprising. There are literally thousands of years of animal personifications. Certainly, people understand that Mickey Mouse is not a real mouse, just like they understand that Hello Kitty is not real cat. They don't need to be real. They're characters. And as their names denote, Mickey is a mouse, and Kitty is, well, a cat.


Many people guessed this in the other post.... with this confusion behind, Who is your favorite Sanrio character??? Mine is