Japanese world record collector says Hello Kitty is ‘a member of our family’
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
Masao Gunji is surrounded by Hello Kitty dolls at his home in Yotsukaido, Chiba Prefecture, Japan.