Reflections - Hello Kitty and Noh Theater Mask

The symbol of “kawaii” aesthetic, Hello Kitty, a white cat born in 1974, is ending her career.

In Search of Adorable, as Hello Kitty Gets Closer to Goodbye

The sales of hello kitty goods reached $5 billion per year. The year 2002 was the zenith of her popularity, and has never recovered. Many of my friends in NY had Hello Kitty goods, and I have been interested in why she could gain such popularity in the global market.

One of the unique characteristics of Hello Kitty is the non-existence of mouth. (It made Sanrio difficult to make her into TV animation, one of the main source of the company's revenue.) Probably this characteristic of her is related to Hello Kitty's global popularity.

Since there is no mouth, Hello Kitty does not smile, laugh nor cry. The way of the interpretation of the doll is all depends on the viewers. When the viewer is depressed, the face of Hello Kitty might seems sad, or even cheerful. When the viewer feel happy, the facial expression of Hello Kitty may seems different.

In other word, by eliminating the mouth and facial expression, Hello Kitty invokes multitude of personalities by reflecting of viewer's inner self, from a singular source.

I find this formation similar to Japanese traditional Noh theater mask.

The Noh mask is worn by the main actor, called “Site,” who expresses the features of gods and souls of the dead with magnificent naturalism. Noh mask itself does not contain any facial expression, but the actor expresses joy, by tilting the mask upwards (terasu = shine), and expresses sorrow, by drawn downwards, (kumorasu = cloudy). The slightest movements from side to side project a bewitching effect (furu = swing). Furthermore, the Noh masks themselves are smaller than the face of the actor, and delineating a boundary that traces the pretenses of reality (= nothingness).

I think these are all related to the historical structure of Japanese society. Since Japan did not create its own history of monotheism but maintained strong influence of animism, the idea of “subject”, or “self” could not be identified till the Meiji Restoration. Switching the “subject” or the “self” became possible in both Japanese language structure and social communication in many different ways, which is the uniqueness of Japanese modernity.

Hello Kitty is remarkably "Japanese" character. Let’s say “goodbye” to the kitty, and let’s say “Hello” to the world, by our own way.

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