August 19, 2005

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Hello Kitty riots

Don't get between Hong Kongers and the latest Hello Kitty toy. That's the moral of today's sordid tale from the SCMP:

The opening of an art exhibition of Japan's most famous cartoon character degenerated into farce at the Arts Centre yesterday as more than 1,000 outraged fans complained about unfair arrangements preventing them from getting a limited edition Hello Kitty toy. After hours of heated discussion, manufacturers Sanrio Hong Kong vowed to produce another set of the toys to calm the crowd.

Exhibition organisers and Sanrio hoped to bring Hong Kong fans an artistically inspiring and nostalgic experience to celebrate Hello Kitty's 30th birthday. But fans who had queued since 11pm on Wednesday night had just one goal - to buy one of 300 "detective-style" Hello Kittys made especially for the exhibition. The exhibition opened at 10.30am and the 300 toys, plus other limited edition items such as umbrellas, went on sale when the doors opened. Only 70 fans were allowed into the hall at a time.

By noon, however, more than 1,000 were queuing outside.

Fans - some of whom took the day off from work - complained to the organisers for letting too few people in. Each visitor was allowed to buy only one of the sought-after toys, but some people walked out carrying more than two. The queue moved only three metres each hour. At least they should tell us how long we have to wait. Do we have to queue up all night to get in?" said gift shop owner Eric Lee Tai-cheong, who had been there with his wife since 10am.

As organisers struggled to provide fans with answers, tickets - which cost $50 each - were still being sold. By 1.30pm, fans were told the 300 Hello Kittys were sold out. Inside the exhibition hall, fans roared with outrage as they discovered that less than 20 of the toys were still for sale. Desperate fans, who even tried to steal reporters' press passes, gathered in the hall's lobby.

Hiro Nishino, deputy general manager of Sanrio (HK), told angry fans the company would produce more toys for those who attended. "We are sorry that we made you unhappy," said Mr Nishino. "Immediately we will make a second version. The price will not exceed that of the detective Kitty [$600]."

"This is better than nothing," said student Stephen Chow Chun-ho, who was there for seven hours.

Asia has seen this kind of thing before, for example via McDonald's in both Singapore and Hong Kong. It will always remain a mystery to me why Hello Kitty holds such appeal, why it drives people to such desperate measures. No doubt there's a sociologist or two researching the phenomena.

But let's not miss the bigger issue here. An art exhibition for a mouthless cat, a cartoon character? I'd rather see a Disney based exhibition to help promote Hong Kong's majority interest in HK Disneyland. Japan might have the Hello Kitty bus. We've got the world's only Mickey Mouse train.

posted by Simon on 08.19.05 at 09:33 AM in the Hong Kong people category.


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more evil from sanrio
Excerpt: Hong Kongers remain under the spell of the mouthless one from Sanrio. Simon cites an SCMP item on a promotional event that went sour.:The opening of an art exhibition of Japan's most famous cartoon character degenerated into farce at the
Weblog: asiapundit
Tracked: August 19, 2005 09:44 PM


More interesting for me is whether it's a free hat or a free fake mahjong set, people herd and riot to get one. I think that this kind of thing in other countries doesn't produce such mass behaviour, in this way.

Is it a culture thing to have what other people have?

posted by: doug on 08.19.05 at 11:03 AM [permalink]

A reflection of desperate materialism?

Doug, I can feel an article coming on... interview a sociologist, a pschycologist, fill in with background, add this in for's ready made!

posted by: Simon on 08.19.05 at 11:06 AM [permalink]

They just had a riot like this is Henrico County, VA because they were selling used iBooks for $50. In both cases, the price is simply way too low. Raise the price. People will still bitch but they won't waste their whole day.

posted by: Matt on 08.19.05 at 11:54 AM [permalink]

And I bet you a good number of those disgruntled fans were boys as well! Weirdos.

posted by: Fabian on 08.19.05 at 11:59 AM [permalink]

Matt, you'll find demand for Hello Kitty toys is relatively inelastic.

Fabian - there was a photo in the paper to back up your theory.

posted by: Simon on 08.19.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

It seems that the Japanese have no worries on the 60th anniversary of Rising Sun imperialism front, if such is the cultural influence of Japanese iconography... if you go to Singapore any time soon, by the way, check out the temporary exhibit of the Singapore History Museum at Riverside Point. Not only do they have a compelling exhibit about the history of the Singapore River, and a retrospective of Singapore Airlines' 'Singapore Girl' ads, but they've also got a huge private collection on display of Hello Kitty Memorabilia by one particular lady. Interesting, but also creepy - I will never forget the murdered woman here in Hong Kong who was skull, I believe, was stuffed into a life-sized Hello Kitty doll...

posted by: HK Dave on 08.19.05 at 12:04 PM [permalink]

Simon said: Matt, you'll find demand for Hello Kitty toys is relatively inelastic.

Does anyone wish to invest in my new Hello Kitty factory? Great western China location.

posted by: Matt on 08.20.05 at 12:25 AM [permalink]

I have been in HK for close to 12 years and the sort of stuff i have seen around here still amazes me. Simon mentioned the mcdonald snoopy farce a few years back, that was incredible, ques stretching blocks around all mc'd in town, riots, fights, people sleeping in the streets and camping on sidewalks and even riot police deployed!!
But i came to realize that most of this people don't really care about the item itself, they do it as an investment, hoping that in 5/10 years the item will be a gold nugget.

posted by: Chris on 08.20.05 at 11:15 AM [permalink]

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