My Newest Obsession aka Why I Am Shamed As A Man
Okay, this is the one you have all been waiting for.
When I went to visit Karie and Reid for Christmas, Karie showed me her collection of Hello Kitty keitai straps. Basically, they are little ornaments that people attach to their cell phones as a way of personalizing them. For example, I have Gizmo from the Gremlins and Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas on my phone. Anywho, I had known that Karie had been collecting these for a while and had written off her assortment of, "Kitty-chan", as Hello Kitty is known here, as a girlish thing that had no point other than to be cute. Man, was I wrong.
As it turns out, these Kitty-chan are very very cool. Each area of Japan is famous for something. Nara has a big Buddha, Kyoto has geisha, the area that Karie and Reid lived was know for its excellent tulips and shrimp, my area is known for its black beans and crab. For each area in Japan, there is a special Kitty-chan that highlights one of the area's famous characteristics. Think of it as a little plastic postcard that you can attach to your cell phone. There are also Kitty-chan for virtually every famous landmark in Japan. If your local landmark does not have a Kitty-chan, it isn't famous. What I once saw as a feminine fetish object, I now see as an artifact that tells a unique story about individual regions and customs in Japan.
This is my collection (Mogwai hangs his head in shame):
I think I have around 50 of them now. As I travel to new areas, I pick up a couple here and there. Part of the addictive nature of these buggers stems from the fact that they are not horribly expensive, around $3.75 USD. Yes, I know that if you multiply that amount by the number of Hello Kitty trinkets in the picture you get a ridiculous sum of money for something rather trivial but what can I say, I am hooked.
Now its time to show you a few of my favorite ones and maybe you can come to understand why I dig these Kitty-chan so much.
First, the special Kitty-chans. For all of the major temples, shrines, and castles in Japan there are special Hello Kitty keitai straps. They are made of metal while the rest of them are plastic. At first, Karie and I thought they were imitations of the "real" plastic Kitty-chans but we then learned that they are actually very special and unique. This is the Hello Kitty for a temple in Kyoto called, Kiyomizu-dera:
The special Kitty-chans are a tad more money but they are definitely very cool mementos for trips to these prized areas.
There are also Kitty-chan to commemorate fairy tales and traditional Japanese stories. My favorite and most prized Hello Kitty is this one that symbolizes the tale of the Bamboo Princess:
These kind of Kitty-chan that come in a blister pack like that are also a tad more expensive but are usually limited editions. To add to the coolness of that Kitty-chan, it also lights up and glows. The region in Japan that the fairy tale was supposed to have occurred in takes great pride in the story. When you visit the area you can buy Bento Boxes that are actually made from a single shoot of bamboo and inside of the shoot there are individual wooden compartments for each food that comes with your selection. That little tidbit is exactly why I like these Kitty-chans so much, I would not have told you any of this information had I not shown you the Hello Kitty strap.
This is a memento from my trip to Fukui, a city known for it's dinosaur finds and it's shrimp:
Here is one from Himeji Castle, this is not the special Kitty-chan but one that shows the Tokugawa family crest. The Tokugawa clan ruled Japan for over 200 years and it was during the Tokugawa shogunate that all of Japan was united as one country. The Tokugawa family was directly involved with the construction and protection of Himeji Castle:
Lastly, here is one more that is from the Toyama region. The lord of the region was in need of money and came up with the idea of selling pharmaceuticals door to door. He amassed a group of wandering salesmen that walked to each village in the region and sold various medicines and herbs to the citizens. They started a very primitive prescription drug plan and would come back to visit customers when their medications were running low. This is why this Kitty-chan is wearing what looks to be a very large backpack, it’s actually a mobile pharmacy:
There are a bunch of others that I really like but if I told you the stories for each one of them, I would be here all day and I do have to teach today. It is just really cool to see the kind of pride that people have for the region in which they live and these Hello Kitty straps help to promote that. I don't think Sanrio makes almost any profit off of these because they are only sold in Japan and some of them are only sold in particular gift shops. That is also something that makes collecting them fun, you have to find them and each region carries different ones. I wish the US would get in touch with Sanrio, the company that makes Hello Kitty, and set something up. I know there is one for each of the fifty states but think of how many there could be based on the landmarks and the size of the country. I just love how all of these little trinkets look so trivial but actually can tell big stories.
Oh yeah, by looking at these pictures you may have noticed my hands look all dry and horrible. Thanks to those blisters I gave myself from worrying too much a few weeks ago, my hands looked much much worse than this last week. They are actually better now than they have been in almost a month.