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January-March 1998

Hello Kitty ("character goods")

Japan is a country overflowing with goods decorated with images of popular cartoon and other characters. The hottest character right now, especially among teenage girls, is Hello Kitty, usually referred to as Kiti-chan.

Created way back in 1974, Hello Kitty is a prim, cute little white kitten wearing a red bow on her left ear. The company that produced Kiti-chan--Sanrio Co., Ltd.--designs and markets not only Hello Kitty products but also a string of other "character goods" and gift items.

The design is really simple; practically anybody can draw it. This simplicity might be one of the factors behind its renewed success. Kiti-chan is featured on over 3,000 products, such as lunch boxes, stationery, T-shirts, and other items for kids, as well as goods that grown-up women commonly use, like mobile phones, cameras, handbags, and even scooters and subcompact cars.

Some teenage girls are so crazy about Hello Kitty that practically everything they own has a Hello Kitty mark on them.

The character is a big hit outside Japan, too. When the pop superstar Mariah Carey came to Japan on a tour in 1997, she visited a department store to buy Hello Kitty goods.

Kiti-chan's popularity seems to be part of a revival boom among cartoon stars of the past. Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu), the boy robot who first appeared in comic magazines in 1951, has been featured on stamps and postcards issued by the post office and resurrected as tin toys.

Another popular "old-timer" is Doraemon, the cat-like robot from the future. Besides postage stamps and mobile phones, Doraemon appears now on gardening tools, like flowerpots and watering pots.

Not all the hot-selling characters are from the past, though. Some recent hits include the virtual pet Tamagotchi, which, since August 1997, is being sold in its fourth version known as Tamagotchi Angel, and hundreds of video-game characters called Pocket Monsters (Pokemon for short), which have become incredibly popular since they've been featured in a TV program that began in April 1997.

Photo: Hellow Kitty's face can be found on all sorts of items.