Taiwan: Hello Kitty digs her claws in

AFP/Sam Yeh/Newscom
A nurse takes care of a new-born baby in front of an elevator decorated with a Hello Kitty poster at Hau Sheng hospital in Yuanlin, in Changhua County, central Taiwan, on January 14, 2009. More then 2,000 babies have been born at this 30-bed hospital, decorated with the Japanese animated character Hello Kitty, over the past two years.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

TAIPEI, TAIWAN – You might think a fad centered on a mouthless cartoon cat would quickly fade away. You’d be wrong.

In fact, in Asia’s far east, the Japan-spawned Hello Kitty craze shows little sign of abating. If anything, the tenacious feline is digging her claws in even deeper.

Here in Taiwan, you can find brand-new Hello Kitty-themed hotel packages, a Ferris Wheel to ride, even a themed maternity ward – for those who want to recover from childbirth with extra feline support.

In Taiwan, far more than in the US, it’s socially acceptable for grown – even middle-aged – women to persist with cutesy, girlish behavior and interests.

Academics have plumbed the theoretical depths of Hello Kitty mania. Ko Yu-fen of Hsih-shin University noted in a paper that the craze peaked in Taiwan in the summer of 1999, when fistfights broke out in Taipei after the city’s McDonald’s ran out of stuffed Hello Kitty dolls that were part of a promotional campaign.

In Kaohsiung, a port city in southern Taiwan, the Grand Hi-Lai Hotel has begun offering a “Hello Kitty Dream Holiday” package for high-paying guests. This includes chauffeured airport pickup and a city tour in the pink “Kitty Car,” a visit to a Hello Kitty Ferris Wheel on a nearby mall’s rooftop, a stay in a special Hello Kitty-themed room, and breakfast in the company of a giant stuffed Hello Kitty doll.

“It’s very popular,” a concierge told me. “All four rooms have been booked every day since we started this.” He said the guests are mostly wealthy, middle-aged women from Hong Kong or here in Taiwan – not surprising, since the bill is around US$200 per night, and twice that if you want to splurge on the “Hello Kitty Suite.”

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