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Hello Kitty To Help Promote Japanese Tourism Industry

Hello Kitty has been an international "ambassador of cute" for years, and can now claim "official government envoy" to that list, according to the ASSOCIATED PRESS.

Japan's tourism ministry on Monday named Hello Kitty as its choice to represent the country in China and Hong Kong, two places where she is hugely popular among kids and young women. Officials hope to tap that fan base to lead a larger flow of tourists to Japan and get the country closer to its goal of 10 million overseas visitors a year, the "Visit Japan" campaign.

At a press conference, Sanrio President Shintaro Tsuji, whose company created the white cat, called Hello Kitty's appointment "an honor" and pledged she would "work hard to attract many visitors."

Japan's other goodwill tourism ambassadors will include Korean singer Younha, Japanese actress Yoshino Kimura and Japanese pop/rock duo Puffy AmiYumi.

Although this is the first time the tourism ministry has tapped a fictional character for the role, the foreign ministry in March inaugurated blue robo-cat Doraemon as Japan's "anime ambassador."

Hello Kitty was designed by Sanrio in 1974, first appearing on a plastic coin purse. Her image adorns more than 50,000 products in 60 countries; one of the most powerful brands in the world. She's one of mascot-obsessed Japan's biggest hits as a toy character, often seen on lunch boxes, jewelry and countless other accessories.

In China, Hello Kitty-fever has already spread. A multi-million dollar musical featuring Kitty opened earlier this year in Beijing, and is in the midst of a national tour. "Hello Kitty's Dream Light Fantasy" will then travel to Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S. over a three-year run.

Tourists from China and Hong Kong, who accounted for 16.5 percent of visitors to Japan last year, are expected to be the second-largest group of tourists, after South Koreans.