Oct. 8, 2012 at 10:26 AM ET
The globally popular cartoon character, Hello Kitty, has a new job: tour guide for visitors to Japan.
In the wake of last year's devastating earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan, Tokyo-based Japan Tourism Agency has collaborated with Sanrio, creator of Hello Kitty, to develop a special iPhone app called “Visit Japan with Hello Kitty.”
Nori Akashi, public relations manager for the Japan National Tourism Organization in New York, said the Japan Tourism Agency had developed the app—its first—because “Hello Kitty is an icon, like Japan tourism."
“Hello Kitty has a strong association with Japan; it’s globally known and eye-catching,” she said.
Downloadable for free through March 31, 2013, from Apple's App Store, the app features 53 Hello Kitty characters dressed in special costumes appropriate for each of Japan’s 47 prefectures; Hokkaido, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka and Kyoto feature multiple characters.
For example, the Tokyo Hello Kitty carries a bouquet of cherry blossoms, because the city’s parks are well-known for these flowers. For Hokkaido, an island in the north of Japan where seafood is popular, Hello Kitty wears a hat shaped like a crab. And in Kyoto, where Japan’s cultural traditions—including kimono-making—have been upheld for centuries, Hello Kitty wears a kimono. In addition, there are several hidden characters that appear only at Narita International Airport in Tokyo and Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay.
In each destination, the specially garbed Hello Kitty characters pop up to act as a tour guide to local landmarks and also appear on photos the user takes.
The app only functions in Japan; the iPhone’s GPS system will detect where the phone owner is and display the appropriate Hello Kitty characters. Users can insert Hello Kitty into their photos and post these directly to Facebook, Twitter and other social media from their iPhones. The app stores photos the user takes, which can be converted into iPhone wallpaper.
The app is being released worldwide, including in Japan.
The Japan Tourism Agency said it was considering similar collaborations with other international brands launched in Japan.