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'Supercute' Cartoon Icon, Hello Kitty, Celebrates 40th Birthday

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Image: US-JAPAN-ENTERTAINMENT-ANNIVERSARY-HELLO KITTY
A woman photographs Hello Kitty items on display a press event ahead of the opening of the first ever Hello Kitty exhibition in North America.FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP - Getty Images

It’s been 40 years since the Japanese accessory and toy company Sanrio first introduced Hello Kitty to the public. Since then, Kitty’s now-iconic face has adorned everything from children’s notebooks and backpacks, to rice cookers and adult products like vibrators.

The Japanese American National Museum this week unveiled its new exhibition “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty.” Interest in the exhibition was unprecedented, with the museum announcing on Wednesday that it had quintupled its usual visitor numbers since the exhibit opened.

Unfamiliar with Hello Kitty’s illustrious history? Here are five fun facts about the ubiquitous character.

Image: US-JAPAN-ENTERTAINMENT-ANNIVERSARY-HELLO KITTY
The first ever Hello Kitty exhibition in North America opens this weekend at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles on October 10, 2014.FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP - Getty Images

(1) Contrary to popular belief, she's not quite a cat.

The exhibition first made headlines in August when curator Christine R. Yano revealed that Hello Kitty wasn’t actually a feline. “That's one correction Sanrio made for my script for the show,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat.” Another little known fact: Her full name is Kitty White and she’s British.

Image: US-JAPAN-ENTERTAINMENT-ANNIVERSARY-HELLO KITTY
The first Hello Kitty item, a small vinyl coin purse, debuted in March 1975 in Japan.FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP - Getty Images

(2) The first Hello Kitty product is kept under lock and key.

In 1975, Sanrio released the first of thousands of Hello Kitty products, a small, see-through, vinyl coin purse. The official blog of the exhibition notes that the original purses were priced at under a dollar. Considered one of the rarest of all Hello Kitty collectibles, the original purse is kept in a sealed vault at Sanrio headquarters. Since then, Hello Kitty has been featured in over 50,000 products available in 60 countries.

Image: Hello Kitty dresses are displayed at the "Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty" museum exhibit in Los Angeles
Hello Kitty dresses are displayed at the "Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty" museum exhibit in honor of Hello Kitty's 40th anniversary.LUCY NICHOLSON / Reuters

(3) Almost everyone knows her name.

Harvard Japanese Studies professor Ted Bestor told Bloomberg last year that Hello Kitty was one of "the most recognized franchises in the world.” And that familiarity has paid off. The BBC reports that Sanrio makes about $759 million annually just from Hello Kitty alone. The company’s founder, Shintaro Tsuji, can thank her for helping to make him a billionaire.

Image: Vivian Wolfson, 10 views 'Kittypatra' by Simone Legno For Tokidoki at the 'Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty' museum exhibit in honor of Hello Kitty's 40th anniversary, at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles
Vivian Wolfson, 10, views 'Kittypatra' by Simone Legno For Tokidoki at the 'Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty' museum exhibit.LUCY NICHOLSON / Reuters

(4) She has a side career as a diplomat.

Even the Japanese government has recognized the power of Hello Kitty. In 2008 she was named Japan’s tourism ambassador to China and Hong Kong. Officials noted in particular the character's popularity among women in their explanation of the appointment.

Image: A painting titled 'Hello Lincoln' by Scott Scheidly hangs at the 'Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty' museum exhibit in honor of Hello Kitty's 40th anniversary, at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles
A painting titled 'Hello Lincoln' by Scott Scheidly hangs at the 'Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty' museum exhibit.LUCY NICHOLSON / Reuters

(5) The first-ever Hello Kitty Con is coming soon.

Move over, Comic Con. The Japanese American National Museum and the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles are getting set to host Hello Kitty Con from Oct 30- Nov 2. The convention is set to feature “interactive experiences and events for fans and friends of all ages, including activities, art, exhibits, exclusives, workshops, lectures, panels, sneak peeks, tattoos, food, fun, and many more surprises!” Among the exclusives superfans will get to see is the original coin purse, which will be specially flown in for the occasion.

"Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty" will be displayed at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles through April 26.

Image: A woman photographs 'Super Space Titan Kitty' by Colin Christian at the 'Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty' museum exhibit in honor of Hello Kitty's 40th anniversary, at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles
A woman photographs 'Super Space Titan Kitty' by Colin Christian at the 'Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty' museum exhibit.LUCY NICHOLSON / Reuters
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