You know her, you love her, and you can’t live without her. Hello Kitty is the quintessence of harmlessness and cute, one of several iconic characters hailing from Japan that has made itself known worldwide.

Recently, 92-year-old Shintaro Tsuji announced that he would be stepping down as president of Sanrio, that company responsible for Hello Kitty. While he will remain associated with the company, Tsuji will hand over Sanrio to his grandson effective July 1st, marking the end of his 60-year career.

Hello Kitty

Originally designed by Yuko Shimizu in 1974 for the Sanrio Company, the Hello Kitty character was originally stamped on a vinyl coin purse marketed to pre-teen females. The item was a hit and immediately sold well for Sanrio.

By the late 1990s, Hello Kitty appeared on thousands of items yearly, and by 2008, annually generated several hundred million dollars in revenue. Despite the breakout success of the character, Yuko Shimizu sadly left the company in 1976 and apparently did not receive much money from the success of her design.

Over the years, Sanrio has developed Hello Kitty’s background story while turning the character into an international brand. After considering the name "Hi Kitty," Sanrio settled on Hello Kitty and based the character in Britain. The company intentionally left off the character's mouth, a controversial design choice, to allow viewers to project their feelings on to the character and make her more relatable. As Hello Kitty grew into a worldwide phenomenon during the 1990s, the omission also helped underscore the fact that Hello Kitty is not bound by a single language and is indeed a "citizen of the world."

Death of a Son

When Shintaro Tsuji steps down, he will be succeeded by his grandson, Tomokuni Tsuji, a senior managing director. Although family based-successions are common in Japan, Tomokuni is surprisingly young. At the age of 31, the soon-to-be head of Sanrio is younger than its flagship character.

This was likely not the original plan for the company. Until 2013, Shintaro’s son, Kunihiko, had been the heir apparent of the fashion company. However, the long time health buff who worked out everyday collapsed while on a business trip in Los Angeles. At the age of 62, he suffered an acute heart failure and, sadly, passed away. Over his time at Sanrio, he had been pivotal in expanding the company and helped make his father a billionaire.

The end of an Era: Internet Reaction

As mentioned, Shintaro Tsuji's move marks the end of a 60-year era that began when he founded the company, originally named the Yamanashi Silk Company, in 1960. Before forming the company, Tsuji was a prefectural government official, likely how he managed to acquire his initial capital investment on 1 million JPY ($9300).

Unfortunately, Tsuji leaves his successor with some pertinent issues to deal with as soon as he takes up the position. Like many companies, the coronavirus has hit Sanrio hard. Recent revenues are 95 percent lower than a year before, effectively providing the company with less than 10 percent of its forecasted profits. Indeed, Sanrio was forced to close stores across the globe, as well as its theme parks. This exacerbated already weak growth for the company.

Although there remain problems to solve, several video projects will likely help tide shareholders. The franchise is experiencing some success with its Netflix show “Aggretsuko,” and has announced plans with New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers for an English-version Hello Kitty movie.

Regardless, netizens took a few moments to congratulate Tsuji and note the big news:

  • "He used to sell candy outside the entrance of Puroland.”
  • ”Wow! This news even made the BBC ."
  • "His ability to pursue kawaii fashion throughout old age is amazing.”
  • "When I’m his age, I hope I am still working as happily as him.”
  • " I wish he could continue working as the CEO."

By - Luke Mahoney.