CHIBA, Japan — It's hard to miss the little pink-walled house in a residential neighborhood 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-story structure "Kitty house" and built it as an extension to his main house four years ago. The approximately 25-square-meter enclosure is filled with a plethora of Kitty goods, including stuffed animals, stationary, 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 as if admiring his grandchildren.
After graduating high school, Gunji joined the Metropolitan Police Department. He was mainly stationed at police boxes where he worked to ensure community safety.
Gunji first encountered Kitty 30 years ago during a visit to Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. He bought a strap-like Kitty ornament at a shop as he found it cute.
He was particularly charmed by the character's eyes. "I felt relief from work gazing at her eyes," he recalled.
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."
Both men and women, however, can be attracted by cuteness. Gunji would respond, "Kitty soothes me and motivates me to work hard."
His passion for Kitty goods 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 in November last year. 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 collectable items, overturning the previous mark of 4,519 to set a world record.
Fans and neighborhood 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 okay 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."
"If I find something new, I'll buy it," he said.