I can say, without hyperbole, that I’ve grown up with Hello Kitty. So, when my friends and I went to Los Angeles last weekend for the L.A. Zine Fest, I knew I had to carve out some time to visit the Japanese American National Museum for the 40th Anniversary Hello Kitty exhibit.
I jokingly said on Instagram, that I was “going to church,” but in an incredibly dorky way, it really was a spiritual experience. This cartoon cat has been my constant companion through childhood to — yeah, it’s true — now. I actually had a moment where I had talked myself out of going: I was super tired from a party the previous night, I had read a negative review of the exhibit online, and I started to think of how many zines I could buy for the $20 admission… but once I got to the museum, I was totally exhilarated.
First off… check it out… the very first Hello Kitty piece of merchandise ever produced, back in 1974!!! I’ve seen photos of it for ages, but it was pretty stinkin’ cool to actually see it in person. It’s so tiny!
And, I kind-of loved the introduction to the exhibit, which states Hello Kitty “demonstrates the strength of ‘soft power’ by saying more with less.” How lovely is that? I love the sentiment of “soft power.” It makes me feel okay with being a quiet, wallflower-y type. It doesn’t mean I’m a wimp. I have soft power.
Another reason why I almost hesitated to go to the exhibit is… well, I admittedly have museum quality Hello Kitty artifacts from the late ’70s/early ’80s, acquired from when I was a kid from my relatives overseas. But, holy toledo, there were so many products on display that I didn’t have! And really wanted! But, with that said, I have a lot of items that weren’t part of the exhibit… which leads me to wonder: how do I open my own museum? And charge $20 a person for admission? Or, does anyone want to take professional photos of my stuff, publish a book of it, and give me lots of money?
This was the very first Sanrio catalog!!! Love!
There was a small display of gift bags, trinkets, stickers, and more from the first Sanrio stores — so, I took this photo for my bestie Laura, who used to work at a Sanrio store!
There was also a small display of Strawberry News, the official Sanrio magazine, that my Mom used to buy for me every time she went back to Japan for a trip. (She’s a flight attendant, so that’s a lot!) I have a huge box of back issues under my bed. (Sexy, right?)
And then there was the stuff that I can only dream of owning!
This? A Hello Kitty mini-fridge. Oh my god.
I’ve totally seen the Hello Kitty duck tape at Target, but Hello Kitty motor oil??!! Holy crap. Um, speaking of crap, there was also Hello Kitty toilet paper, but I could never imagine actually using that…
There was also the Hello Kitty guitar, which I saw Stuart from Boyracer on tour with back in the ’90s. I’ve always wanted one of those.
I would fall in love with any man who wore this Sanrio Liberty print suit.
And there was this… Hello. Kitty. Braces. Oh. My. God. Want.
Another part of the exhibit featured Hello Kitty-inspired artwork by contemporary artists. There were lots of amazing pieces, but here are a few I especially loved.
It’s a terrible photo, but this is the piece from Portland duo APAK.
I absolutely love this piece from Souther Salazer (huh, another Portland-based artist; that was not intentional!).
And this piece from Tokyo-based artist Asuka Satow, which is drawn entirely in ballpoint pen!!! Just look at the detail in Hello Kitty’s torso!
All in all, my morning with Hello Kitty just reminded me of what a great role model she was for a young Janice growing up, and hell, even grown-up Janice. There’s lots more photos from the exhibit here on my Flickr. Go say hello.