Prepare to be overwhelmed with adorable. The whiskered, round face of Hello Kitty – possibly the world’s cutest cartoon – stares at you from every corner of the Japanese American National Museum exhibit. As you and the kids wander the displays of famous cartoon, you can’t stop pointing things out to each other. Some pieces are familiar; you’re pretty sure you recognize that coin purse from when you were a kid. Other pieces are unexpected, to say the least. Seriously — Hello Kitty motor oil?
In honor of the 40th anniversary of this international icon, the museum is hosting a colorful retrospective, displaying oodles of rare memorabilia and artwork inspired by the bow-headed cutie. Start your visit off by grabbing a Kitty-ear headband – complete with traditional red bow – from the ticket taker, and snap a family photo before you scatter into the exhibit. Kitty White, as she is actually named, has only had three designers directing her look since her inception, but that hasn’t stopped her image from taking on literally thousands of different incarnations.
As you pass through the red-walled halls of Plexiglass cases, you’ll see some of the most outlandish Kitty-emblazoned products created. Who wouldn’t want Kitty-covered toilet paper? There are also diamond-encrusted, Kitty-shaped engagement rings to celebrate eternal kitty love, and even baby blankets and hats – like the ones that might be found in Taiwan at the Hello Kitty maternity hospital (Yes, this is an actual thing).
Follow the path of giant red bows to the upstairs gallery, where you’ll feast your eyes on paintings, costumes, and all kinds of original works of art, including a hot-pink-hued, Kitty-adorned portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Your fashion-savvy family members will marvel at the custom Kitty-wear on display, like Lady Gaga’s gown made entirely of plush Hello Kitties. Younger kids, meanwhile, might find a new obsession when they see the custom-made Hello Kitty dollhouse.
The exhibit runs through April 26. Plan your visit around one of the exhibit’s event weekends, where your whole family can participate in Kitty-inspired crafts and activities, like cupcake decorating and origami. And don’t forget to stop in the gift shop on your way out — you’ll want to get some Hello Kitty trinkets to start your own collection.