Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Genyo to Asunaro-sha

Kitty White in a bowl of Sanuki Udon, one of my favorite types of noodles. Udon are the wonderful, thick and hearty white noodles and Sanuki (a city in Kagawa, Japan) is where the noodles are said to be the best

For over a year, I’ve been collecting Japanese Regional Hello Kitty items, mainly the small keychain plushes. Yes, they are too cute but at the same time, they are wonderfully detailed and teach me something about the country and culture my parents came from. They also have the added benefit of making me forget job-related stress so I'm wondering if the IRS would allow me to use my kitty purchases as a medical deduction -- hey, I can dream can't I?

The sordid story behind my collection
Regional Hello Kitties first appeared in Japan in 1997. A company called Genyo made a licensing deal with Sanrio which allowed them to create and market (in addition to their infamous vibrator) a line of stuffed animals, stationary, towels, etc., with a "regional theme." Each kitty was presented as a food, animal, historic figure or tourist attraction from that region. No surprise that within Japan, these little regional items became wildly popular when they first came out. Genyo had a hard time keeping up with the demand.

However, like all good things rich and powerful, Kitty White's reputation was tarnished on her way to the Top Ten Toys list. To start with, Sanrio was not happy about the whole vibrator debacle, but things went from uncomfortable to down-right ugly when three of Genyo's top executives were charged with tax evasion. It was reported that some 400 million yen of corporate taxes was creatively missing. As the news spread, some gasped at the thought of Kitty White being "soiled by corporate greed." Others snickered. I, on the other hand worried that there would never be another regional Kitty once the Genyo website when down.

Thankfully, saner heads prevailed and the Regional Hello Kitty series not only still exists, but is still going strong!


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