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Hello Kitty, Japan's Cutest Ambassador to the World

Hello Kitty is expanding her circle of joy, using cultural diplomacy to bring her "kawaii" touch to the Japan-ASEAN 50th anniversary and SDGs initiatives.



Hello Kitty makes an appearance during the Tokyo Tower Light-Up Ceremony celebrating 50 years of Japan and ASEAN friendship and cooperation on December 17, 2023. (©JAPAN Forward)

Immensely popular, Sanrio's Hello Kitty is becoming Japan's best friendship ambassador, bringing smiles to visiting world leaders. 

Hello Kitty is also the queen of cute. As the popular character of one of the world's most successful franchises, she is a global icon that can be found in various types of entertainment, on virtually every kind of product, and much more.

What's more, she is increasingly adding the role of ambassador to her list of accomplishments. Against the backdrop of the sparkling Tokyo Tower, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife welcomed heads of state and government from ASEAN countries on December 17, 2023. At Azabudai Hills in Minato Ward, these leaders and other special guests marked the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan cooperation.

For the light-up ceremony, lights of red, yellow, and blue, the colors of the ASEAN flag, adorned Tokyo Tower. The words "ASEAN Japan" shone brightly from the landmark's observation deck.

Hello Kitty orchestrates the attendees for a commemorative photo at the 50th anniversary celebration of Japan and ASEAN on December 17, 2023. (©JAPAN Forward)

Meanwhile, Hello Kitty used her cute persona to bring warm smiles to guests. She, too, is celebrating her 50th anniversary — and it's already looking to be a very special year.

A Pop Culture Icon

The Sanrio character is almost unparalleled in her universal appeal. Her face is globally recognized. Even beyond Japan, she has significantly impacted popular culture.

As a case in point, on November 1, 2023, the Japan Society of Northern California (JSNC) honored Hello Kitty with its Cultural Ambassador Award. She is a "global icon," their website explained.

The Japan Society of Northern California presents its Cultural Ambassador Award to Hello Kitty on November 1, 2023. (© JSNC, Mark Shigenaga)

Founded in 1905, JSNC promotes Japan-US relations by encouraging exchange through culture and language learning. JSNC President Stephen Pollock effused on Hello Kitty's appeal and what makes her an effective cultural ambassador.

"Hello Kitty has come to embody Japanese kawaii culture. People think of her as being very cute and friendly. She definitely has a positive impact on friendship and celebration around the world," he said.

Washing Hands with Hello Kitty

Sanrio's vision is "One World, Connecting Smiles" based on the company's motto "Everyone Getting Along Together." Hello Kitty's efforts do just that. They bring smiles that span the field of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and charitable causes.


Since April 2021, Hello Kitty has collaborated with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) India office. The two joined forces in India, conducting programs for children to raise hygiene awareness and creating YouTube videos promoting proper handwashing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Easily understandable and produced in both English and Hindi, the videos garnered over 4 million views each.

JICA's goal was to reach 100 million people in India. Instead, they reached more than 124 million, said Rio Ohguchi from the JICA India office. She recounted stories of people watching the videos in the Mumbai Metro. "I felt that the initiative was working and it made me very happy," she added. 

Fellow JICA India office representative Hidenobu Fujiwara added that the campaign's effectiveness was a testament to the appeal of Hello Kitty. "When it comes to sending a message that leads to behavior change, characters have ways of reaching children's hearts," he reflected.

More widely, he pointed out that Hello Kitty brings happiness into people's lives. "Children in India from poor families have few chances to experience something special in everyday life. Yet, the children would light up at the sight of Hello Kitty. Even those who don't know her are instantaneously taken by her charm," he said. 

Hello Kitty has since visited India twice, most recently in January 2024. JICA is currently expanding its efforts into similar projects, such as encouraging correct nutrition practices. Fujiwara said JICA hopes to collaborate more with Hello Kitty in the future.

hello kitty
Hello Kitty visited Samsung Medical Center in Seoul on December 5, 2023. (©︎2024 SANRIO CO.,LTD.)

Hello Kitty's Global Activities

Hello Kitty is also spreading her positive energy in more direct ways to communities worldwide. On December 5, 2023, this initiative took Hello Kitty to the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea.

The children enjoyed a Hello Kitty quiz organized by Sanrio Korea volunteers. Then the featured guest appeared, bringing smiles to the patients. Pictures from the day capture happy moments of children smiling and receiving hugs from Hello Kitty. Medical workers also thanked Sanrio "for bringing vitality to their everyday life."

This initiative was part of the "Sanrio Nakayoku Project," which is Japanese for "Everyone Getting Along Together." In another instance, Hello Kitty visited a Mexican facility for families with ill children, in a similar effort to bring relief to caregivers.

Managing Executive Officer Yuko Tsuji, who leads Sanrio's Global Sustainability section. (©︎2024 SANRIO CO.,LTD.)

Spreading Smiles Through the 'Sanrio Nakayoku Project'

The collaboration with JICA and activities in Seoul are just a couple of examples of the "Sanrio Nakayoku Project" initiatives. Every year, Hello Kitty visits 15 to 20 establishments in Japan, from hospitals caring for children to disaster-affected areas.

Sanrio established its Global Sustainability section in 2021. Managing Executive Officer Yuko Tsuji leads the office, and she says the company has just begun bringing happiness to the world.


"There are certain things that only a character can do. And that is to get close to people in various situations."

In Japan, the company also organizes pro-bono sessions called "Sanrio Summer Holiday One-Day Course," where in-house designers visit orphanages to teach children how to draw their favorite Sanrio characters.

"Workers would say that they truly felt once more that their designs had the power of bringing smiles to children," says Tsuji. She adds that Sanrio wants to expand this initiative internationally.

"We want to continue initiatives that bring smiles to as many people as possible all over the world," Tsuji adds.

With Hello Kitty's appointment to pursue sustainability, cultural diplomacy and global sustainability have just gotten much more kawaii.

This article is published in cooperation with Sanrio Company Ltd.


Author: Arielle Busetto