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The history of the Hello Kitty vibrator

By Peter Payne
October 4, 2004

       

Sanrio is one of the top character licensors in the world, having more or less created the business model of doing business by creating something that doesn't really exist and licensing its use to other companies. Sanrio produces nothing -- all their characters, like the Little Twin Star, Minna no Ta-bo, Bad Batz-Maru, exist as legal entities and nothing more. Their most successful character, Hello Kitty, or Kitty-chan as she's known in Japan, is now now thirty years old.

One of the many companies that license Sanrio's characters for their products was a Japanese company called Genyo Co. Ltd. Genyo made a wide variety of products, from bento boxes to children's toys to chopsticks, many with the Hello Kitty character on them. They scored big in the late 1990's with an off-the-wall hit, a series of Hello Kitty toys which featured a different Kitty figure from each of Japan's 47 prefectures, each representing something the prefecture was famous for. (The figure from Gunma Prefecture, where we live, represented a wooden kokeshi doll.)

In 1997, Genyo designed a product that would live in infamy: the Hello Kitty vibrating shoulder massager, which really is a shoulder massager (trust us -- it says so on the package). Sanrio approved this design without batting an eye, and the product enjoyed modest sales in toy shops and in family restaurants like Denny's and Coco's. It wasn't until 1999 or so that people began to catch on to the fact that the Hello Kitty massager had other potential uses, and with amazing speed, they started popping up in adult videos in Japan. The next thing anyone knew, they had changed into a cult adult item, sold in vending machines in love hotels -- after all, what self-respecting man wouldn't buy his girl a Hello Kitty vibrator when she asked him for one?

     

The emergence of the Hello Kitty vibrator as a cult adult item caused friction between Sanrio and Genyo, and Sanrio ordered the company to stop making the units. Genyo refused, since it had paid a lot of money to license Kitty for their products. There seemed nothing Sanrio could do, since they had approved the item for sale (see the official Sanrio sticker on the boxes). The answer came when the Japanese tax authorities raided Genyo on suspicion of tax evasion. It seems that some creative accounting was going on between the president of the company, a Mr. Nakamura, his vice president, and the owner of the factory in China where the units were made. All three were arrested, and Sanrio had the excuse needed to yank Genyo's license. They seized the molds used to make the vibrators and destroyed them.

And so, the sad, weird chapter of the Hello Kitty vibrator is at an end. The last of the Kitty vibes are gone, so now what will the world do for wacky comic -- and sexual -- relief?

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