More than 500 items of Hello Kitty paraphernalia are on display at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles, which will be open until April. (Reuters)

What started as an animation on a vinyl coin purse made in Japan has turned into the worldwide phenomenon that is Hello Kitty.

The animated Sanrio character turns 40 this year. The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo opened a retrospective Saturday looking back on the past four decades of her gracing school supplies and artists’ imaginations.

“She has always appealed to so many ages and backgrounds and she is very zen-like in her disposition,” said Janet Hsu, president of Sanrio, in a video interview with Reuters. “You are able to make Hello Kitty your own friend.”

Those hoping to get a glimpse of their animated friend in person may have to get in line, as the museum has had sold-out shows of the exhibit, which runs until April.

“We brought in a couple of wonderful curators to tell the story of Hello Kitty as a character and a product — and also a curator to tell the story of Hello Kitty as a muse,” said museum president Greg Kimura of “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty.” The first such exhibit in the U.S. boasts more than 500 curated items.

Curiosity about Hello Kitty reached a high point this summer when it was reported that the animated character was actually a little girl living outside of London.

Items with Hello Kitty’s twin sister Mimi (recognizable by her yellow bow) also are on display, as is a dress worn by Lady Gaga, completely covered with plush Hello Kitty toys.

“There are those who consider her, dare I say it, a kind of a religion,” said co-curator Christine Yano.