Japan's Hello Kitty Bullet Train Is Way Too Cute

Posted by On 12:00 AM

Japan's Hello Kitty Bullet Train Is Way Too Cute

Japan's Hello Kitty Bullet Train Is Way Too Cute

It’s a dream come true for some, and a big part of the country’s embrace of “kawaii” culture.

It was only a matter of time before two of Japan’s biggest obsessions came together. It’s an unbearably sweet collaborationâ€"and, for many, a dream come true.

Beginning June 30, the country’s newest bullet train will come barreling down the railway at some 200 miles an hour, decked out in pink. Blink and you might miss the sight of one the world’s most iconic characters plastered on the side: the beloved Hello Kitty.

She’s the ambassador of kawaiiâ€"that’s Japanese for cuteâ€"and now, she’s the face of a new shinkansen that will run from the Fukuoka prefecture in wester n Japan to the Shin-Osaka station roughly 400 miles north. In an unveiling for the media ahead of Saturday’s service, the operators West Japan Railway Co. showed off the eight-car train, with pink ribbons painted on the side and drawings of the celebrity (who’s not really a cat?) in a conductor’s outfit.

Inside, Hello Kitty is everywhereâ€"on the bright pink walls, on headrests, and even on window curtains. Her signature bow dots the pink carpet. There’s a “Hello! Plaza” car that will introduce passengers to the goods and attractions of western Japan, andâ€"for the Instagrammersâ€"a car dubbed the “Kawaii! Room” with a giant Hello Kitty doll.

There’s no doubt that this is a big tourism draw. But more importantly, it’s part of Japan’s ongoing embrace and strategic development of its kawaii culture. This is, after all, a country whose prefectures have adopted cuddly, wide-eyed (and sometimes weird) mascots as figures of regional pride.

Today, Hello Kitty (and the rest of the Sanrio gang) can be found on almost everything, from clothing to stationery to entire cafes. But it’s not just merchandise that carries her instantly recognizable face. In the U.S., you likely won’t find American icons like Mickey Mouse or Kermit the Frog on city property. But in Japan, Hello Kitty has graced the surfaces of buses and traditional trains, and on less-expected things: traffic barriers, for example, and manhole covers.

Since Sanrio created the character in 1974, the company has been a key player in the country’s “kawaii diplomacy.” At home and abroad, Hello Kitty’s childlike appearance sold not only the culture of cute, but also the image of innocenceâ€"something post-war Japan badly needed. Anthropologist Christina Yano, who coined the term “pink globalization,” explains in a post for the East Asia Forum:

Kawaii diplomacy ultimately teases us with the idea of Ja pan as victim, rather than as perpetrator… The positioning of Hello Kitty as one face of Japan represents the power of the would-be child, at once appealing, seemingly benign, and ever in need of care and nurturance.

Overseas, the character has helped boost railway tourism in Taiwan, inspired a popular food truck in the U.S. that’s drawn hours-long lines, and in Bangkok, the police use the character as a disciplinary tool by issuing pink Hello Kitty armbands to embarrass officers who misbehave. Today, Japan’s arsenal of cute ambassadors continues to grow: Kumamon, the black bear mascot from the Kumamoto prefecture, Studio Ghibli’s beloved Totoro character, and, most recently, a lazy egg by the name of Gudetama have all gained a following abroad.

Inside Japan, they’re even more popular. Hello Kitty remains an obsession across generations and genders, and something citizens have accepted as part of the national identity. And just as she co nnects Japan with the rest of the world, she also bridges the different regions within the countryâ€"now at crazy high speeds.

That has been her mission all along, according to the adorable backstory West Japan Railway Co. created for the train. According to that story, Hello Kitty met a pink ribbon spirit that charged her with connecting a lot of people. Naturally, a bullet train was the way to make it happen.

About the Author

Linda Poon
Linda Poon
  • @linpoonsays
  • Feed

Linda Poon is an assistant editor atCityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.

Most Popular

  1.  New    York City bus driver David Smith points out how to use the fare system to a passenger. Transportation

    There's a Bus Driver Shortage. And No Wonder.

    Why doesn't anyone want to drive the bus?

  2. A young man rides a hoverboard along a Manhattan street toward the Empire State Building in New York Transportation

    Why Little Vehicles Will Conquer the City

    Nearly all of them look silly, but if taken seriously, they could be a really big deal for urban transportation.

  3. A set of slate grey buildings with red window frames. Design

    Designing Better Affordable Housing in New York

    A city commission has new guidelines for developers, designers, and community members.

  4. Commuters line a subway platform as a train approaches. Life

    Millennials Are Happiest in Cities

    Older Americans prefer smaller and more rural places, but Millennials are happiest in cities, according to a new study.

  5. Equity

    The Reluctant Undertakers

    What does a city do when homeless people die?

MapsClick Here NewslettersClick Here FacebookClic k Here Skip to content Next Story in Transportation »Source: Google News Japan | Netizen 24 Japan

Next
« Prev Post
Previous
Next Post »