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As a Japanese schoolgirl in the 1970s, Kazumi Kaminaga had never seen something as cute as Hello Kitty when she first laid eyes on the moon-faced, mouthless character in a shop.With Kitty set to celebrate her 40th birthday Saturday, Kaminaga has become a lifelong collector of a brand phenomenon that appears on more than 50,000 products – including a dress made for pop diva Lady Gaga – and spawned an estimated multibillion dollar industry.First released in 1974 and appearing on a coin purse the following year, Kitty is far from just kids stuff these days.Kitty got a boyfriend, Dear Daniel, when Japanese teen celebrities started openly dating, and a Persian cat named Charmmy Kitty when pets became all the rage among Japanese women.Kitty went on a space mission this year aboard a satellite and Sanrio is launching a line of Kitty products for men next year, possibly before Valentine's Day.
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