The first ever Hello Kitty Convention 2014 in Little Tokyo of downtown Los Angeles was crazy cuteness! I write this in past tense because I’m kind of glad it’s over. It’s like having a Hello Kitty hangover from the culture shock.
I read they sold 25,000 tickets; each a day pass. I think I am rubbing shoulders with at least 8,000 people while we wait in line for an hour to get our badges and then wait in line for half an hour to get in. Once we get to the front security yells for all bags to be open and then let in ten groups at a time because it is so crazy busy inside too. The security guard, who looks more like Secret Service in a suit and stern face, is a bit intense for a Hello Kitty Convention. By this time we are exhausted from waiting and being treated rudely by the JAMN ticket staff and HKCon staff. But, all the attendees are awesome and most of the staff. It’s always one or two people who have to ruin it for everybody.
The convention is in LA MOCA’s storage space behind the Japanese American National Museum, so it seems. Music booms from the DJ booth once inside. There are tons of photo ops. In the middle of the building sits a life-sized Hello Kitty in a teacup. Along the wall are framed HK wrapping papers that I once had and used as a child. On the main stage they are playing games like Spin Wheel or a performance by Carouselle, but I don’t know who that is. I did see some dancing. The Super Supermarket area sells special edition Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, Bedhead pajamas, Visa cards with HK on them, SPAM sushi kits with a HK face, SEPHORA makeup kits, Major League Baseball HK clothes with Padres, Angels or Dodgers logos. They have cardboard cut outs of a Padres and an Angels HK. In the middle of the market is a Zen garden to lay on a HK bean bag or take a photo with her under a Zen trellis. Japan LA is selling limited edition The Simpsons X Hello Kitty apparel. At the Sanrio booth Ms. Yamaguchi signs autographs. She is Kawaii, of course. She has been Hello Kitty’s designer since 1980. Her hair is orange-red with two buns on the top of her head. Leaving the market in the Lovely Kitty Wonder area is HK inspired fashion on manikins. One dress is a mermaid with the manikin wearing a purple wig and HK ears. The Art School area teaches people to draw the kitty, but it is so busy; how does one get in there? There is a room called Sanrio Vintage Shoppe. Another room displays the original Vinyl Coin Purse from 1975 like a diamond on blue velvet in a glass case. (Yes, it is brought out of the vault for this special event.) Some girl finds it hilarious. She can’t talk and walk. Vintage Village has vintage HK displayed behind glass, but in cute large wood cut houses split in half. I love the Art Corner. It’s mostly a photo opportunity, but art is everywhere. The walls are covered in graffiti from floor to ceiling. Sit down at a green table and pretend you are living in the kitty’s house. There is a small art gallery too. But my favorite is one of the graffiti walls with HK newspapers glued to the wall. There is a cutout tree in front, where people take a peek-a-boo photo. Step up to Hello Kitty Friendship Village and see the inside of a HK inspired house. At HK INK there are free real tattoos! They have sailor HK and mermaid HK!
Outside is a rainbow where you can take a photo with someone in a Hello Kitty costume. This is what I really want, but the line is too long and which of the three lines does one take? It isn’t the Hello Kitty I saw on Twitter a day before. This Hello Kitty has a silver dress on and she’s not five apples tall more like fifty. Across the way are the food trucks, but the lines are long except the ice cream truck. They have a Hello Kitty Café to showcase their future cafes. Honestly, it doesn’t look edible. I’m not sure what it is. It’s pink and cute. There are more booths that have free faux tattoos, face painting, nail art and a free bag.
The best parts is a lecture and the exhibit. Yes, the exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum is included in the price. The museum alone is $20 so $33 ($30 for tix and $3 fee) for the convention with the museum exhibits is a great deal.
Freelance journalist and author Manami Okazaki gave a lecture titled, Kawaii Everyday! She is an articulate speaker and an expert on Japanese culture. She explains Kawaii means cute. Kawaii is nothing new. She shows pictures with examples of cuteness in the Japanese culture. Every police department has a cartoon character logo, man holes have cute firefighter drawings and street barricades are made of lined-up pink rabbits. The pros are Kokeshi dolls were used in therapy after The Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Kokeshi dolls are made in Tohoku, Japan. Okazaki visited these doll makers and has written a book about the dolls titled, Kokeshi, From Tohoku with Love. The dolls try to express the most with the least, much like Hello Kitty. Okazaki explains that Hello Kitty is expressionless so that you can superimpose your feelings. The cons are using Kawaii characters to desensitize something. A notorious prison in Northern Japan applied a Kawaii character to give them a better image. One of the power plants that is now shut down from the earthquake is plastered with Kawaii characters on the walls about the dangers of nuclear power. Okazaki toured the power plant even with the existing danger.
Okazaki went on to speak about Kawaii and fashion design. Many Japanese designers feel that the word is over used even though it is the highest compliment. Kawaii is a mix of Japanese and Western culture. Kawaii is not perfection. Designers degrade it a little so that people do not grow tired of the art. They believe simple design gives something longevity.
Okazaki continued to speak about the town of Harajuku. Yes it was a town where America had a military base. She showed an old photo. She is amazed at how American military bring all their furniture and lifestyle to the base in a foreign country and never assimilate. Now Harajuku is a district in the city of Tokyo where people under thirty go to express themselves through fashion. Many designers come out of there.
The visiting Harajuku girls are another highlight at Hello Kitty Convention 2014. Apparently, they are famous models. The two girls walked around outside for people to take photos of them or with them. Of course, they held a Hello Kitty doll or an accessory.
The entrance to the convention is past the exhibition so I’m sure if the museum is part of the deal. Luckily, it is. The Japanese American National Museum exhibit titled Hello! Exploring the Super Cute World of Hello Kitty is possibly the best part of the event. And, if you missed the convention you will still be able to get a ticket to the art and memorabilia exhibit. The first floor has displays of Hello Kitty appliances, a robot that recognizes ten voices and a collection of backpacks. There is a Kitty and Daniel doll set in wedding attire. There are many mediums of Hello Kitty from acrylics on canvas to ceramics to huge sculptures on the second floor.
This whole experience is overwhelming to say the least. Many people are saying they will never go again and that it is disorganized. I don’t think it is that disorganized just too many people for a small space. Despite the chaos it is worth it once in a lifetime. Maybe Sanrio should take pointers from Disneyland next time. The good thing is that there are still plenty of Hello Kitty experiences in Little Tokyo to be enjoyed without the crowd which I will post separately.
Happy 40th Birthday Hello Kitty!