Japan from the inside out

Hit machine

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, February 28, 2010

IN 1984, when I first came to Japan, the one thing sure to cause the eyes of Western visitors or temporary residents in this country to roll, and the wise lips to wag, was Hello Kitty.

In those days, there was a strange fellow in town teaching English in the JET program who thought the existence of the character was evidence of an intrinsic defect in the Japanese personality. He was inspired to design his own “Goodbye Kitty” t-shirt with an indelible magic marker. In his rendition, Kitty-chan wound up looking like she had too much to drink and came out on the losing end of a street fight. He was not much of an artist, and that contributed to the overall…effect, shall we say.

He thought he was quite the wit and social commentator and wore the shirt constantly. His shirt failed to have the desired impact, however, because his personal hygiene left something to be desired. He seldom washed it–or bathed–so it became rather dingy and acquired a gamy odor.

Naturally, people started avoiding him when they saw him on the street, and that further soured his attitude toward Japan. He returned to his homeland–not the United States–and went to work for a travel agency. The last I heard, he was selling package tours to Japan.

Times have changed, however. I got an e-mail from a friend in England today, and he told me that advertisements for this began appearing on British television about two weeks ago. He’s done some web design, and so has add-ons to his Google page for search engine optimization. One of them counts the number of searches made for specific web pages.

He reports this page has already received 29 million searches.

I understand about the trend toward the infantilization of culture, and I know I’m not part of this age demographic, but still…29 million?

Speaking of Kitty-chan, here’s a post from the first month of Ampontan in January 2007 presenting a theory on her origins as explained by Catherine Yronwode. Accept it or not, the theory is intriguing.

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