The History of Gotochi Kitty: Hello Kitty Souvenirs from All Over Japan
There are 47 prefectures who have collaborated with the company that produces Gotochi Kitty.
Gotochi Kitty is Hello Kitty in unique designs that represent local products or famous landmarks from different regions in Japan. An idea from a souvenir maker gave birth to the collection back in 1998, becoming the first regional collaboration goods a character sold, which is fairly common nowadays.
We talked to PR Manager Aki Kuroda of Asunarosya, the company that produces Gotochi Kitty, to ask how the partnership with 47 prefectures succeeded when it has never been done before. We also talk about how the product affected trends in the souvenir making business.
Gotochi Kitty products displayed in the Asunarosya office. This wall is merely a fraction of the whole collection.
Shocking debut of Lavender Hello Kitty “It’s Hello Kitty but the color is different”
Currently, there are more than 3,000 kinds of Gotochi Kitty around the world. The first edition was Hokkaido Hello Kitty, wearing matching lavender overalls and ribbon. According to Ms. Kuroda, the absence of a hit product in the souvenir making business and the birth of a Hello Kitty product marketed towards adult women were the reality during the release.
First ever Gotochi Kitty, Hokkaido Hello Kitty
“During the first half of the 1980s, people around the world thought of Hello Kitty as ‘a character kids love.’ However around 1997, the Hello Kitty Pink Quilt Series became a big hit among high school students and office workers, making it ‘a character even adults can enjoy.’”
“On the other hand, souvenir shops at the time were filled with key holders, Japanese tea cups, and pennants, which were all traditional and not eye-catching anymore. So we decided ‘to borrow the strength of Hello Kitty to help make the appeal of regions in Japan known to many people’ which led us to acquiring the license to use the character from Sanrio and making interesting goods.”
The Lavender Hello Kitty gained popularity right upon release that in the following year, the design has been used in other products such as straps, towels, and ball pens. When the year 2000 rolled around along with the mobile phone boom, the demand for accessories pushed cell phone straps into the limelight as souvenirs that can easily be given to anyone regardless of age or gender.
Due to the favorable reception of the Lavender Hello Kitty, the Shinshu Hello Kitty was introduced in August 1998. More versions gradually came out, until all 47 prefectures of Japan got their own Gotochi Kitty in 2005.
Nagano’s Gotochi Kitty, the Shinshu Hello Kitty released in 1998
Hello Kitty collaborations brought about by “doing everything I want to do”
Gotochi Kitty designs are mainly coordinated by designers from Asunarosya, representatives from each region, and three people from Sanrio. Nowadays, Hello Kitty with different headpieces and costumes have become the norm. During the time of Lavender Hello Kitty and Shinshu Hello Kitty, however, the color of the existing costume was simply changed.
“I have been told that Lavender Hello Kitty’s displayed in the kiosks of New Chitose Airport, which is Hokkaido’s largest airport, had the biggest impact. Also, the fact that Hello Kitty was wearing a different color, including the ribbon, was unheard of at the time.”
Many unique designs for headpieces and costumes
The theme being the area’s most famous tourist spot or specialty was also researched deeply. As the demand for the Gotochi Kitty collection grew locally, the designs became more focused on the minor festivals and delicacies, making the motifs more flexible and all the more unique.
In 2018, Hello Kitty debuted as a YouTuber saying, “Doing everything I want to do is the way I express myself” in her first video when talking about her career, and true to her word, Hello Kitty teams up with a wide variety of collaborators. According to Ms. Kuroda, Gotochi Kitty is probably the pioneer in these progressive collaborations.
“While respecting the original design of the character, the more the Gotochi Kitty collection grows, the more unique designs have been made. Maybe the reason the whole world talks about the unusual Hello Kitty’s is related to this new image.”
Official YouTube channel, the HELLO KITTY CHANNEL, started in 2018
Safety of “never-changing” image allows for collaboration with traditional crafts
The unique Gotochi Kitty products were accepted by consumers easily due to the spreading popularity of Hello Kitty. However, the diverse lineup of Gotochi Kitty items was not simply because of popularity, but also due to the assurance that the character will never change.
“The Hello Kitty now is the same Hello Kitty from 45 years ago. This never-changing image made it easy to trust the character that even banks used it in passbooks and cash cards thinking that ‘Hello Kitty will not do anything bad.’ Due to this familiarity and security, partnerships with other businesses became smoother.”
In collaborations, there are risks of the celebrity tied up with being involved in a scandal, or the project being the subject of severe criticism from consumers due to certain factors in the content or carelessness. As values changed with the times, collaborating with characters is not uncommon anymore. In this case, Hello Kitty not having an image of hurting anyone gives business owners trust and confidence.
From Gotochi Kitty, Asunarosya ventured to traditional crafts. According to Ms. Kuroda, the good image projected by Hello Kitty for almost half a century led to involvement with the world of Japanese craftsmen when limited edition Hello Kitty Nambu Ironware and Imari Ware were created.
“At the start of the Gotochi Kitty project, our company reached out to representatives of various regions to give our proposals. But after some time, thankfully, they started offering us their suggestions for the designs. Overall, the goal of the project is to spread the charm of each locality using Hello Kitty and by doing so, be able to assist in regional revitalization. So we are glad to create items that represent local crafts or traditional cultures that only the locals can possibly know of.”
Hello Kitty spreads Japanese culture to the world
Gotochi Kitty is not only available in Japan, but also in other countries. In the U.S. alone, the collection has spread to New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Miami, and Hawaii. Other foreign designs include local specialties from China, United Kingdom, Canada, and Thailand. Even in Japan, limited edition Hello Kitty goods with kabuki, Mt. Fuji, and cherry blossom designs that foreign tourists love are released. This boosts the popularity of Gotochi Kitty as a Japanese souvenir.
More than 3,000 designs have been released so far around the world. Ms. Kuroda explains that several types of products are manufactured for each Hello Kitty, so the actual number of products is too big to grasp.
Today, many characters have gotochi collaborations that fans visiting the places endorsed by these goods, also called contents tourism (usually refers to locations used in popular culture), have become a trend. Hello Kitty left a huge impact as the first character to form a partnership with the prefectures to improve their tourism and assist in regional revitalization.
Hokkaido Marimo Bonbon Hello Kitty
Despite Gotochi Kitty being a popular gift item and a collector’s item among fans, as of now, there is no official online store for the product. Ms. Kuroda says that there is a reason for this.
“We receive a lot of enquiries regarding online stores that sell Gotochi Kitty items, but our company does not have an official online store and we never did. This is because the fundamental idea behind Gotochi Kitty is to support the region along with the locals. Since these items can only be bought in their respective regions, we encourage fans who want to get their hands on the Gotochi goods to visit the actual place and learn more about their culture leading to, eventually, supporting the region in some way. There are still many Japanese cultures people are not aware of, so it would be great if Hello Kitty serves as a catalyst for these local practices to be discovered and appreciated by others.”
Gotochi Kitty is spreading the appeal of local culture as a sign of respect. As the forerunner in the growing number of character collaborations in Japan, Hello Kitty is truly an amazing role model.
*Gotochi Kitty products mentioned in the article may include some that are out of production.
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Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker™ (27 November 2019)