Singapore (dpa) – The sea of red and white stretched far into the distance as 17,000 people gathered in Singapore on Saturday for a run to celebrate the birthday of a fictional feline.
The 4.2-kilometre Hello Kitty Run, marking the 40th anniversary of the character’s debut in Japan, drew fans from as far away as Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia, who belted out a Happy Birthday song before setting off.
The anthropomorphic cat has long been adored in Singapore. In August, the Hello Kitty Run filled 15,000 pre-registration slots within 24 hours.
A month later the website collapsed under high traffic.
“It’s a nice time to meet all sorts of Hello Kitty fans of all shapes and sizes,” said Sharon Leong, a teacher whose friends flew in from Jakarta to participate.
Hello Kitty has become an international phenomenon, bringing in seven billion US dollars in revenue each year for Sanrio, the Japanese company that owns the rights to the brand.
The phenomenon has also been the subject of academic culture analysis, including a study by Benjamin Wai-Ming Ng, associate professor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Japanese Studies Department.
Earlier this year, collectible Hello Kitty plush toys offered by McDonald’s in Singapore sold out online within a week, 14 years after Singaporeans literally fought over another line of Hello Kitty toys from McDonald’s.
The craze created such an uproar that McDonald’s had to hire extra security for crowd control, and then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong commented: “We should not get too carried away.
“There is no need to fight” over it, he said.
Marine Cerbelle and Marie Sophie Le Gars, French expats who work in Singapore, said they were excited about Saturday’s Hello Kitty Run.
“We’re fans of Hello Kitty, but in France you hardly see Hello Kitty stuff,” Cerbelle said.
Participants in the run each received a T-shirt and commemorative plush toy, and those who completed it were given a finisher’s medal.
“I’m not really a Hello Kitty fan, but I joined because of the Hello Kitty plush toy and the medal,” said civil servant Husna Hussin.