Hello Kitty’s Citizenship Controversy: Is She British or Japanese?

Hello Kitty's entire history is being questioned following the publication of 'Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan in English and Japanese.' Is the world's most famous cat from London or Japan?

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Natsume Publications/Amazon

Hello Kitty is beloved all around the world, but nowhere is she more revered, celebrated and protected than in Japan. In fact, she was named tourism ambassador to China and Hong Kong by Japan’s Tourism Ministry in 2008. However, the Atlantic Wire reports, the publication of Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan in English and Japanese has been stirring up a bit of drama, bringing Kitty’s nationality and essentially her entire history into question.

Her official biography on the Sanrio website explains that she lives in London with her parents and twin sister, Mimmy. We are given her birth date, but it’s unclear whether she was born in London or just moved there at some point in time. In the book, published by Natsume Publications, Kitty introduces her American boyfriend, Dear Daniel, to Japan and teaches him the country’s customs, traditions, slang and culture (there’s even a section on proper protocol and etiquette regarding funerals). The apparent scandal lies in the fact that she seems extremely knowledgeable about Japan and her whole family is living there when he comes to visit. Jezebel exclaims, “They’re all fluent and seem to know things about Japan that only people who were raised there would know. But how can this be if Kitty was born and raised in England?!”

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The Atlantic Wire made some calls to both Sanrio and the British embassy, but no one seemed to be able to offer an explanation as to Kitty’s origins.

We, however, can venture a guess. Couldn’t it be that Kitty was born in England (or moved when she was very young) and raised by her Japanese immigrant parents? Couldn’t she have grandparents and other family living in Japan whom she visits frequently? Couldn’t she be living in England but practicing the same traditions and etiquette of her Japanese heritage? After all, she was a tourism ambassador — chances are she’s familiar with the country.

Somehow we just can’t help but feel this Kitty drama is a bit familiar. Remember when Barbie and Ken broke up? And then got back together seven years later? Or in the ’90s, when conservatives were protesting the purple Teletubby for fear of him being gay? News flash: these characters aren’t real.

Despite all the noncontroversy, writer Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky (who co-wrote the Atlantic Wire piece with Jake Adelstein) writes in the blog Japanese Subculture Research Center that the book is actually a very useful tool for Japanese people who are going abroad and wish to explain their culture and customs to foreigners. Likewise, it could be useful for travelers to Japan, as well. “This book is not childish at all, read it and you will learn much about Japan and its people, children, youth, adults and elderly people. And there are absolutely no pictures of green tea KitKats or high-tech toilets. We expected this book to be awful—it turns out to be awfully entertaining.”

 MORE: 25 (More) Authentic Asian Experiences: Japan

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