Ja­panese world record col­lec­tor says Hello Kitty is ‘a mem­ber of our fam­ily’

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - THE JA­PAN NEWS

It’s hard to miss the lit­tle pink-walled house in a res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hood of Yot­sukaido, Chiba Pre­fec­ture, and its in­te­rior is pretty mem­o­rable, too — it con­tains the Hello Kitty col­lec­tion ac­cu­mu­lated over more than 30 years by for­mer po­lice­man Masao Gunji.

Last year, Gunji was rec­og­nized by Guin­ness World Records for a col­lec­tion of 5,169 items. Chil­dren and Kitty fans of­ten visit his home to play with the iconic San­rio Co. char­ac­ter, who Gunji in­tro­duces as “a mem­ber of our fam­ily.”

Gunji calls the one-storey struc­ture “Kitty house” and built it as an ex­ten­sion to his main house four years ago.

The ap­prox­i­mately 25-square-me­tre en­clo­sure is filled with a plethora of Kitty goods, in­clud­ing stuffed an­i­mals, sta­tionery, shoes, mats, watches and lunch boxes. Kitty is like­wise fea­tured on the room’s wall­pa­per.

“They’re all cute,” the 68-year-old said with a smile.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing high school, Gunji joined the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice De­part­ment. He was mainly sta­tioned at mini po­lice sta­tions (koban), where he worked to en­sure com­mu­nity safety.

Gunji first en­coun­tered Kitty 30 years ago dur­ing a visit to the cen­trally lo­cated city of Nikko. He bought a strap­like Kitty or­na­ment at a shop and was par­tic­u­larly charmed by the char­ac­ter’s eyes.

Over the years, Gunji con­tin­ued pur­chas­ing mer­chan­dise. His father, also a po­lice­man, of­ten scolded him, say­ing, “You’re a dis­grace, wast­ing time with a mas­cot like Kitty.”

Gunji would re­spond, “Kitty soothes me and mo­ti­vates me to work hard.”

His pas­sion for Kitty prod­ucts re­ally took off af­ter he re­tired. He con­tin­ued splurg­ing at spe­cialty shops and de­part­ment stores as he sought to ex­pand his col­lec­tion.

On the ad­vice of an ac­quain­tance, Gunji chal­lenged the Guin­ness World Record last Novem­ber. To en­sure a smooth screen­ing process, he care­fully se­lected items for eval­u­a­tion from his roughly 10,000-piece col­lec­tion. Ul­ti­mately, 5,169 items were rec­og­nized as col­lectible items, over­turn­ing the pre­vi­ous mark of 4,519 to set a world record.

Fans and neigh­bour­hood chil­dren of­ten visit the Kitty house. Some cud­dle with the stuffed an­i­mals while oth­ers play with toys. Gunji says he’s heart­ened by the smiles of those who come to in­ter­act with Kitty.

His wife Yoshiko, 76, said he was al­ready col­lect­ing mer­chan­dise when they first met.

“At first I won­dered if he was OK but grad­u­ally I learned that he’s a kind, good-hearted per­son,” she said. “Col­lect­ing Kitty is his pur­pose in life. Since he’s got­ten this far, I want him to keep at it.”

Gunji says he has spent roughly 20 mil­lion yen (about $226,000 Cdn) on mer­chan­dise and 10 mil­lion yen on the house for the char­ac­ter.

“If I find some­thing new, I’ll buy it,” he said.

Col­lect­ing Kitty is his pur­pose in life. Since he’s got­ten this far, I want him to keep at it. YOSHIKO GUNJI COL­LEC­TOR MASAO GUNJI’S WIFE

JA­PAN NEWS-YOMIURI

Masao Gunji is sur­rounded by Hello Kitty dolls at his home in Yot­sukaido, Chiba Pre­fec­ture, Ja­pan.

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