The 92-year-old founder of Hello Kitty is handing over the business to his grandson

Shintaro Tsuji will step down as CEO of Sanrio on July 1, the company said in a statement on Friday. Tomokuni Tsuji, 31, would take power to “ensure effective decision-making,” it added. Shintaro will remain chairman.

Shintaro founded Sanrio as a Yamanashi Silk Center store in 1960, and changed its name to Sanrio in 1973. Sanrio was one of the first Japanese companies to see the potential in the character licensing business – and Hello Kitty is by far the most popular and profitable. creation.

Ever since it was created in 1974 and made its debut on a vinyl coin purse for a year, Hello Kitty has appeared on everything from sneakers and paper towels to sticks and panini makers. The appeal of the cartoon cat-like character played a key role in spreading Japanese pop culture abroad. (The root kawaii – “kawaisa” – in English translates as “sympathy”.) However, Sanrio has faced an increase in licensing business in recent years: The ratio of global sales license fees decreased by 11% in fiscal year 2019 compared to the year before.

Sanrio, meanwhile, has grown into a retail and entertainment behemoth with amusement parks and restaurants in Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Tomokuni Tsuji, meanwhile, already has a special relationship with Hello Kitty: They share the same birthday, November 1st. Tomokuni is 14 years younger.

Sanre fans are already comparing the new CEO to Sanrio’s character Pompompurin, a beret with a golden retriever.

One tweeted that Tomokuni “was the perfect picture for Sanria.”

Despite the continued popularity of Hello Kitty, earnings at Sanri have been under pressure for years. For the year ended March, net profit fell 95% year-over-year to 191 million yen ($ 1.8 million), largely due to declining merchandise sales and the closure of its theme parks. Sales fell 6.5%, and Tokyo’s Sanrio Puroland theme park – also known as Hello Kitty Land – remains closed after closing in February due to a coronavirus pandemic. The park is scheduled to reopen on July 20th.

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Family businesses in Japan often pass the reins on to their eldest sons. The founder’s son, Kunihiko, died in 2013 of heart failure, according to the company.

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