- Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek across the Pacific by Christine R. Yano
The line outside Los Angeles’s Japanese American National Museum (JANM) extended far beyond the glass-covered entrance and onto the streets of Little Tokyo. This was the opening day of Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty at JANM, curated by Jamie Rivadeneira, owner of Los Angeles pop culture boutique JapanLA, and Christine R. Yano, author of Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek across the Pacific. The tellingly popular exhibit celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Sanrio’s most famous fanshii guzzu (literally “fancy goods”), Hello Kitty, as madly successful global export and irresistible Japanese soft power icon. As the author of Pink Globalization—published a year earlier after over a decade’s worth of research in Japan and the United States—Yano is perfectly positioned as Hello Kitty expert to curate such a celebratory exhibit. However, her work in Pink Globalization goes far beyond the scope of JANM’s curatorial context.
Yano delves into the deep ocean of so-called Japanese Cute-Cool and kyarakuta (anthropomorphized cartoon figures) in Japanese (mostly female) consumer life to uncover the potentially not-so-“happy,” sweet, or simple discursive production of Hello Kitty. For Yano, the notion of kawaii (cuteness) is integral in thinking through the popularity, transnational dissemination, and corporeal/discursive image of Hello Kitty as fetishized commodity and symbol of Japanese soft power and nationhood (literally as Japanese tourism ambassador in China and Hong Kong) within globalization discourses of the 1990s and 2000s. Yano is concerned with the formation of social relations surrounding the global consumption of Hello Kitty vis-à-vis what she calls “pink globalization,” or “the transnational spread of goods and images labeled kawaii” (6). She ultimately asks one fundamental question: what does Hello Kitty do? [End Page 219]
Pink Globalization is an extensive and in-depth analysis of a transnational cultural icon that has existed for four decades. As the first, full-length, critical text engaging with Hello Kitty’s rich and complex history and contemporary formulation, it is no wonder that Yano draws from a seemingly endless supply of sources. Yano’s exhaustive ethnographic research consists of interviews with fans, bloggers, Sanrio representatives, Hello Kitty store employees, private online vendors, artists, and even Hello Kitty “haters.” She also engages with Japanese and American news media, the wide array of Hello Kitty goods as gendered cultural products, visual and performance art, and online fandom. Yano utilizes these sources to locate Hello Kitty’s transnationality and subsequent variable meanings within discourses of globalization and the global movement of Asian-based multinational capital. In this way, Pink Globalization juxtaposes the “microprocesses” of individual fans’ consumption of Hello Kitty with the “macroprocesses” of ‘“Cool Japan’ hype, soft-power buzz, and globalization” to answer her principal question (254).
Pink Globalization’s structure traces the discursive production of Kitty in various transnational contexts: Hello Kitty’s historical creation in Japan (chapter 2); her feminized image within Japanese Cute-Cool youth culture (chapter 1); her official philosophy of “happiness” as defined by Sanrio and how this philosophy is evoked in Hello Kitty’s purposeful marketing strategies and corporate culture (chapter 2); Hello Kitty fandom in the United States (chapter 3); the backlash to her feminized image (chapter 4); so-called subversive uses of Kitty (chapter 5); Hello Kitty–inspired performance and visual art (chapter 6); and Hello Kitty as extending the global reach of Japanese soft power through Yano’s notion of the seemingly innocuous and innocent “global wink” (chapter 7).
Yano’s careful mapping of the creation and dissemination of Hello Kitty transnationally positions Pink Globalization within various modes of critique. Drawing heavily from Joseph Nye’s notion of “soft-power” and Marx’s commodity fetish, Yano traces Japan’s economic and cultural ascendency via the governmental project of “Cool Japan” as compared with Ulf Hannerz’s notion of Euro-American “Coca-colonization”—the cultural imperialism of Western products, and the notion of...