King Charles mentioned Sanrio’s most iconic character Hello Kitty during a state banquet speech this week, celebrating Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako’s visit to Buckingham Palace. The king aims to strengthen the diplomatic ties between Japan and the United Kingdom and made references to Japanese pop culture icons that link the two countries, including Hello Kitty and recent performances of a stage adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away at the London Coliseum.

“Perhaps you would allow me to note one particular individual who turns fifty this year,” the king said in the palace ballroom at the start of the banquet. “Raised in a London suburb with her twin sister, a self-made entrepreneur worth billions of dollars, and a UNICEF Children’s Ambassador on top of all that. So I can only wish a very happy birthday to… Hello Kitty!”


king charles and the emperor of japan


As King Charles noted, Hello Kitty is turning 50 years old this year. Hello Kitty was first created by Yuko Shimizu for the Sanrio company in 1974 and made her first appearance in the form of a small vinyl coin purse. Although she is depicted as an anthropomorphic white Japanese bobtail cat with a yellow nose and no mouth, Kitty is not a cat — she is actually a British girl. 

Idealized British Childhood

According to Sanrio, her full name is Kitty White and she was born in London. “She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature,” says University of Hawaii anthropologist Christine R. Yano in an interview with the LA Times. She actually has a pet cat of her own, named Charmmy Kitty, who was introduced in 2004. Hello Kitty’s simple design provides a blank canvas for little girls and women alike to project their own feelings onto her. But she was specifically chosen to be British because British culture saw a trending popularity in 1970s Japan. “[Japanese people] loved the idea of Britain. It represented the quintessential idealized childhood, almost like a white picket fence,” Yano explains. 

The first Sanrio gift store opened in the United States in 1976. But the broader lore of her family and background haven’t been as widely exported outside of Japan. Kitty has an identical twin sister, Mimmy. The only distinguishing point between the sisters is that instead of a red bow worn on the left side of her head like Kitty, Mimmy wears a yellow bow on the right side of her head. The girls live with their dad, George, and mom, Mary. They also often get visits from Grandpa Anthony and Grandma Margaret. Hello Kitty also has a boyfriend, Dear Daniel.

Billion Dollar Brand

The King’s speech also highlighted several of Kitty’s accomplishments, such as her role as a billion-dollar brand and a UNICEF Children’s Ambassador. It is thanks to Hello Kitty’s success that Sanrio was able to exponentially grow into the multi-billion dollar company that it is today. Hello Kitty alone makes up for around $7 billion of Sanrio’s sales in merchandising and licensing retail deals. Throughout the 1990s, she was Japan’s undefeated top-grossing character, and Kitty still remains one of the top five highest-grossing media franchises of all time. Hello Kitty’s very own theme park, Sanrio Puroland, opened in 1990 in Tama, Tokyo.

UNICEF Ambassador

In 1983, the United Nations Children’s Fund appointed her the children’s ambassador to the United States. In 1994, she was re-appointed as Japan’s Children’s Ambassador. And in 2004 she became a UNICEF “Special Friend of Children,” a title given uniquely to her, after Sanrio raised over $150,000 for girl’s education programs.

The @hellokittyeu Instagram account thanked King Charles for his mention, writing, “We want to deeply thank His Majesty King Charles III for his birthday wishes to Hello Kitty on her 50th anniversary, during the visit of Their Majesties Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.”

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