Hello Kitty, Hello Japan's tourism ambassador

May 19, 2008 9:45:04 AM PDT
Hello Kitty, Japan's ubiquitous ambassador of cute, has built up an impressive resume over the years. Global marketing phenom. Fashion diva. Pop culture icon. Now the moonfaced feline can add "government envoy" to the list.

Japan's tourism ministry on Monday named Hello Kitty as its choice to represent the country in China and Hong Kong, two places where she is wildly popular among kids and young women.

Officials hope tapping into that fan base will lead to a bigger flow of tourists into Japan and push the country closer to the goal of attracting 10 million overseas visitors every year under the "Visit Japan" campaign.

Last year the number of foreign tourists traveling to Japan hit a record high of 8.35 million, up 60 percent since the government began the marketing effort in 2003.

Arrivals from China and Hong Kong, who accounted for 16.5 percent of visitors to Japan last year, are poised this year to become the second-largest group of tourists after South Koreans.

At a press conference, Sanrio Co. President Shintaro Tsuji, whose company created the toy cat, called Hello Kitty's new appointment "an honor" and pledged the feline would "work hard to attract many visitors."

Japan's other goodwill tourism ambassadors include Korean singer Younha, Japanese actress Yoshino Kimura and Japanese pop/rock duo Puffy AmiYumi.

Although this is the first time the tourism ministry has tapped a fictional character for the role, the foreign ministry in March inaugurated blue robo-cat Doraemon as Japan's "anime ambassador."

Designed in 1974 by Sanrio, Hello Kitty first appeared on a plastic coin purse. Her image today has become one of the most powerful brands in the world, adorning some 50,000 products in 60 countries.

Hello Kitty - one of mascot-obsessed Japan's biggest hits as a toy character - is often seen on lunch boxes, jewelry and many other accessories.

In China, Kitty-fever has already broken out.

A multi-million-dollar musical featuring Hello Kitty opened earlier this year in Beijing and is in the midst of a national tour. "Hello Kitty's Dream Light Fantasy" is then scheduled to travel to Malaysia, Singapore and the United States over its three-year run.

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