Hello Kitty’s New Boss – Grandson of Founder

October 17, 2020

The most famous kitten in the world, Hello Kitty, is 46 this year (2020) and she remains as kawaii (Japanese for ‘cute’) as ever. She has an English name, Kitty White. Famous the world over, Hello Kitty was dubbed a “UNICEF Special Friend of Children” im 2004  when she raised US$150,000 for female education programs funded by UNICEF (The New York Times). In 2008 she was declared the Japanese Ambassador for Tourism in China and Hong Kong. Hello Kitty was also the official Ambassador for Japan Day at EXPO 2015 and more recently was recruited by the Japanese Government to back Osaka’s bid for EXPO 2025. The West Japan Railway Company (JR West) launched in June 2018 a Hello Kitty-themed shinkansen for daily round trips between Shin-Osaka station in Osaka Prefecture and Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture. Hello Kitty is truly extraordinary!

The founder of Sanrio that created Hello Kitty is Shintaro Tsuji, a qualified chemist and former government official with the Yamananshi Prefectural government. He set up Yamanashi Silk Center Co in 1960 to sell silk gift products, a specialty of the Yamanashi Prefecture. In 1973 the store changed its name to Sanrio Company Co., Ltd. When Shintaro Tsuji found that merchandise with cute illustrations sold well, he decided to move into character goods. He hired designers to come up with kawaii type of characters. Hello Kitty was born in 1974. The artist was Yuko Shimizu. Notice that Hello Kitty has no mouth. Shintaro Tsuji said she was not given a mouth because Hello Kitty speaks from the heart and is not bound to any particular language. It made Hello Kitty an almost perfect cross-cultural representative. Shintaro Tsuji has since taken the Hello Kitty brand international with global licensing arrangements. He has also set up the indoor theme park Sanrio Puroland in western Tokyo and licensed Hello Kitty theme parks in other parts of the world.

Shintaro Tsuji

Shintaro Tsuji is a multi-talented, fun loving and seriously hardworking kind of entrepreneur. In a rare interview with Japan Times (2008) he confessed with a big chuckle to being a “speed maniac.” Shintaro Tsuji loves to write fiction which started since his junior high school days. He published a book titled Fairy Tales of the Deep or Umi no Meruhen in 2006 about a boy whose childhood love died of a fatal illness but he was reunited with her through a sea-turtle guide. Happy ending. Shintaro Tsuji also financed the production of a documentary film titled “Who are the DeBolts? And where did they get 19 kids?” which won an Academy Award in the best documentary feature category in 1978. The 1977 film was about Dorothy and Bob DeBolt, an an American couple who adopted 14 children, some of whom were severely disabled Vietnam war orphans. Do read more about the life and times of Shintaro Tsuji, the man they call ‘Mr Cute” at https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2008/03/02/people/shintaro-tsuji-mr-cute-shares-his-wisdoms-and-wit/

Grandson takes over

Shintaro Tsuji is 92 now. At the end of June 2020, he announced his retirement as one of the longest serving chief executives among the top conglomerates in Japan. His grandson, Tomokuni Tsuji, 31, took over on 1 July 2020 and is the youngest CEO of listed corporations in the country. It is a tradition in Japan for the founder to hand over the reins to the oldest son.  Heir apparent Kunihiko Tsuji, 61, died suddenly in November 2013 of acute cardiac failure while he was on a business trip to Los Angeles as Executive Vice President of Sanrio. He had served with his father Shintaro Tsuji for more than 35 years. And so Kunihiko’s son, Tomokuni Tsuji, a graduate of Keio University, Japan, joined the family business in 2014. By June 2017 he was promoted to Senior Managing Director at the age of 28.  

At a Tokyo press conference on his appointment as CEO, Tomokuni Tsuji said “I want to transform the company to better respond to today's rapidly changing business environment." As the new President and CEO of Sanrio, he wrote on the company’s website a message that said “The world continues to change at an ever-increasing pace, and Sanrio needs to make changes to stay aligned with this everchanging world. We will continue to hold on to the positive culture that we have cultivated to date and change those areas that need improvement. And this is exactly where we stand right now. Moving forward, we aim to proactively make revolutionary changes.”

Tomokuni Tsuji has big shoes to fill but his grandfather, Shintaro Tsuji, remains as Chairman of Sanrio and will be there to guide him. Grandfather and grandson are very close.

Read more

  1. The Japan Times. 28 November 2017. Hello Kitty and Pikachu recruited to back Osaka’s bid for EXPO 2025. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/tag/hello-kitty
  2. Everything2.com. Holliman. Sanrio. The Disney of Japan. Important Milestones in the history of Sanrio. https://everything2.com/title/Sanrio
  3. Letterboxed. Who are the DeBolts? 1977 Documentary directed by John Korty. https://letterboxd.com/film/who-are-the-debolts/
  4. Sanrio. Message from President and CEO, Tomokuni Tsuji. https://www.sanrio.co.jp/english/corporate/ir/message/
  5. Kanpai. Sanrio Puroland. 2 September 2020. Hello Kitty Land near Tokyo.  https://www.kanpai-japan.com/tokyo/sanrio-puroland
  6. Sanrio. Small Gift Big Smile. Founder and Chairman Shintaro Tsuji. Chairman’s message. https://www.sanrio.co.jp/english/corporate/ir/message/
  7. The Japan Times. 2 March 2008. Tomoko Otake. Shintaro Tsuji: 'Mr. Cute' shares his wisdoms and wit. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2008/03/02/people/shintaro-tsuji-mr-cute-shares-his-wisdoms-and-wit/
  8. Kyodo News. 12 June 2020. President of Hello Kitty creator Sanrio steps down after 60-yr stint. https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/06/1fea7e4840fd-hello-kitty-creator-sanrios-president-steps-down-after-60-year-stint.html#:~:text=His%20son%2C%20Kunihiko%20Tsuji%2C%20died,vice%20president%20of%20the%20firm.
  9. The Japan Times. 13 June 2020. Founder of Hello Kitty creator Sanrio steps down after 60-year stint. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/06/13/business/corporate-business/hello-kitty-sanrio-shintaro-tsuji-steps-down/
  10. Hopclear. 15 June 2020. Katy Chang. Asia Business. 92-year-old “Hello Kitty” founder stepping down handing company to grandson.AZN News Network. https://hopclear.com/92-year-old-hello-kitty-founder-stepping-down-handing-company-to-grandson/
  11. WLTZ First News. 16 June 2020. Hello Kitty Chief Handing Over Biz To Grandson. THE 92-YEAR-OLD WHO FOUNDED THE COMPANY THAT CREATED HELLO KITTY IS LEAVING AFTER 60 YEARS AND HANDING CONTROL TO HIS GRANDSON. https://www.wltz.com/2020/06/16/hello-kitty-chief-handing-over-biz-to-grandson/
  12. CNN. 15 June 2020. Kaori Enjoji. The 92-year-old founder of Hello Kitty is handing the business to his grandson.  https://www.cnn.ph/business/2020/6/15/Hello-Kitty-business.html
  13. Financial Post. 12 September 2013. How Hello Kitty helped turn one entrepreneur into a billionaire. Since introducing Hello Kitty in 1974, Shintaro Tsuji has captured the hearts and wallets of girls, women and celebrities such as Lady Gaga by licensing the character, becoming a billionaire in the process.  Bloomberg News.  https://financialpost.com/entrepreneur/hello-kitty-billionaire
  14. License Global. 6 April 2018. Obituary: Sanrio’s Kunihiko Tsuji. Kunihiko Tsuji, chief operating officer and senior executive vice president of Sanrio, passed away Nov. 19 due to acute heart failure at the age of 61. https://www.licenseglobal.com/industry-news/obituary-sanrio-s-kunihiko-tsuji
  15. Independent. 21 May 2008. Esther Walker. Top cat: how 'Hello Kitty' conquered the world. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/top-cat-how-hello-kitty-conquered-the-world-831522.html
  16. Sanrio.11 July 2015. Hello Kitty – Official Ambassador for Japan Day at EXPO 2015. https://www.sanrio.eu/hello-kitty-official-ambassador-for-japan-day-at-expo-2015/
  17. Tokyo Treat. 10 March 2019. Jojo. The history of Sanrio’s most kawaii character : Hello Kitty. https://tokyotreat.com/news/history-of-hello-kitty-kawaii