07/18/2015 01:09 EDT | Updated 07/17/2016 05:59 EDT

Hello Kitty Supercute Friendship Festival launches in Vancouver

Hello Kitty's Supercute Friendship Festival starts this Friday and continues throughout the weekend at the PNE Forum.

It's an interactive experience with seven live shows featuring Sanrio characters like Keroppi, Dear Daniel, and Purin.

Hello Kitty is the brainchild of Sanrio, a company known for making kawaii products. Kawaii means "cute" in Japanese, and is a subculture that started with Sanrio in the 1970s.

It started with stationery and little gifts, but today you can find Hello Kitty virtually everywhere. There are not only Hello Kitty toys, clothing, and furniture, but also Hello Kitty branded cars, airplanes and even gravestones.

Hello Kitty still relevant in popular culture

There is actual scholarly research done on why the Japanese character is so popular. Christine Yano teaches anthropology at the University of Hawaii and she is the author of Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty's Trek across the Pacific.

Yano says a big part of Sanrio's success with Hello Kitty is its simple design.

"I call it elegance of design. It's saying more with less. She's an abstraction. It's not that she doesn't have a mouth exactly, but you don't have to put every little thing into this figure," she says.

"You can read into it. Not only do fans make her into various things, but Sanrio itself pays attention to what fans like and do, and picks up on it."

Yano has done a lot of research about the kind of people who love Hello Kitty. She spoke with many women who loved pink and frilly things, but she was most surprised at Hello Kitty's more rebellious fans.

"What was less predictable was meeting a punk fan, who was edgy, covered in tattoos, dressed in black and nothing but black — that Hello Kitty is her icon too."

Even though Hello Kitty is 40 years old, she is still a relevant icon today. Just last summer, an online feud erupted over whether Hello Kitty is a cat or a girl. According to Sanrio's website, she is "a bright little girl with a heart of gold."

When her current designer, Yuko Yamaguchi, was asked whether Hello Kitty was a cat or a girl at an interview last year at the Japanese American National Museum, she answered simply: "Hello Kitty is Hello Kitty."

To listen to the full interview click on the audio labelled: Hello Kitty Supercute Festival.