When, in 1974, employees at the Japanese design company Sanrio created Hello Kitty, the small, rounded cartoon cat with a red bow between her ears and no mouth, they could never have dreamt that she would become the global megastar she is today. Sales of Hello Kitty merchandise now account for half of Saniro's $1bn (£500m) annual turnover and her face adorns 50,000 products, sold in more than 60 countries.
The little half-Japanese, half-English cat has become so globally recognisable that it is, perhaps, inevitable that the Japanese board of tourism has appointed her their official tourism ambassador to China and Hong Kong. This is not the first time the world has looked to Hello Kitty to perform an ambassadorial role; she has been United States children's ambassador for Unicef since 1983.
Dr Sharon Kinsella, a lecturer at Oxford University on Japanese sociology, thinks that Japan's choice of Hello Kitty as their representative is unsurprising.
"It seems predictable enough to have her adopted as a diplomatic envoy," she says. "That has been the way of the 'Cool Japan' bandwagon for a few years now, and relations with China are no healthier. It seems a bit farcical to select Hello Kitty, however: as if a dumbed-down cultural icon that was cool in her retro boom in the 1990s, and which Chinese teenagers dig, can somehow do something significant to alter the gnarly and difficult state of China-Japan relations."
Hello Kitty's creator started out as the Japanese equivalent of Hallmark cards. Sanrio was founded by Shintaro Tsuji in 1960; Tsuji, a qualified chemist, lost his mother when he was 13 and spent an unhappy childhood with reluctant relatives. He attended a kindergarten run by a Canadian missionary and saw for the first time the custom of birthdays, which were not traditionally celebrated in Japan. He decided he would use his company to foster the culture of gift-giving.
As an experiment in 1971, in the wake of student riots, the company began...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document