Hello Kitty: Japan's Tourism Ambassador

In a strange turn of events, Japan has named Hello Kitty as its new tourism ambassador (from AP):

Hello Kitty _ Japan's ubiquitous ambassador of cute _ has built up an impressive resume over the years. Global marketing phenom. Fashion diva. Pop culture icon. Now the moonfaced feline can add "government envoy" to the list. The tourism ministry on Monday named Hello Kitty as its choice to represent the country in China and Hong Kong, two places where she is wildly popular among kids and young women.

Officials hope that tapping into that fan base will lead to a bigger flow of tourists into Japan, and closer toward their goal of attracting 10 million overseas visitors every year under the "Visit Japan" campaign.

Last year the number of foreign tourists traveling to Japan hit a record high of 8.35 million, up 60 percent since the government began the marketing effort in 2003.

The New York Times has more on Hello Kitty as Japan's newest ambassador:

While it remains to be seen whether Hello Kitty fans will follow her back to Japan, this isn't her first assignment abroad. In 2004, she raised $150,000 for UNICEF's female education programs. And she earned the title of "UNICEF Special Friend of Children" during two previous tours.

There is some irony in this story, as Ken Belson, business reporter for The New York Times and co-author of "Hello Kitty: The Remarkable Story of Sanrio and the Billion Dollar Feline Phenomenon," told The Lede.

"China is the biggest source of fake kitty goods," he wrote in an e-mail. "I visited a market in Shanghai that was filled with knock offs." Sanrio, the company that created Hello Kitty, estimated that $800 million of fake goods are sold every year.

Scroll down for photos of the official ceremony for Hello Kitty.