Hello Kitty: Taking on Challenges to Bring Smiles to the World

An interview with Hello Kitty, who serves as the TOKYO Welfare Work Ambassador and is working with the UN to promote awareness of the SDGs, about the reasons behind her efforts.
Kitty met us on the day of the interview wearing an SDGs-themed costume.

—How did you get involved in participating in these social contribution efforts?

My dream is to create a world in which all of us have empathy for one another, and where we can all smile, get along, and say "Hello!" to each other. Since 2002, I've visited hospitals all around Japan, as well as special education schools and disaster areas, and have provided support in the hopes of bringing smiles to everyone's face.

When I first learned about the SDGs, I realized that their achievement would also mean the achievement of my dream. So in 2018, I set up my own YouTube channel, and I started working to support efforts towards achieving the SDGs. In September 2019, I started working with the United Nations (the UN), and I've been learning about the SDGs and promoting awareness among as many people as possible ever since.

In 2019, Kitty visited Indonesia as a part of efforts by UNICEF. The children cheered as soon as they saw Kitty. Photo: Courtesy of Sanrio Co., Ltd.

—In Tokyo, you've been working as the TOKYO Welfare Work Ambassador. What has the reaction to that been like?

Since I started working as the TOKYO Welfare Work Ambassador, I've gotten a lot of very nice comments. People became interested in welfare through my work, telling me that someone world-famous like me becoming ambassador made the work seem more relevant to them, and sparked their interest in welfare. Staff from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government told me that having someone popular like me explain what welfare work is like has led to more people being educated about and interested in welfare—that they want me to keep doing what I'm doing. I think I could do this sort of work anywhere, but there are just so many people in Tokyo, and so many events, that I feel like I could take on many different kinds of challenges here.

Goal 3 of the SDGs, "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages," ties in with Kitty's goal of bringing smiles to the faces of people all around the world, and the way of thinking behind it.

—As you've gone about your SDGs-related efforts overseas, has there been a particular country that has left an impression on you?

I've learned so much everywhere I've gone, but one country that left a particular impression on me was Bangladesh. I visited a Rohingya refugee camp in a city called Cox's Bazar, where there are 900,000 refugees from Myanmar.

There, it isn't uncommon for mothers to give birth in unsanitary conditions, and for them—and their babies—to lose their lives as a result. But seeing the Bangladeshi midwives working as hard as they could to protect the lives of these mothers and children in a less-than-adequate environment—having them tell me, "We're so proud of the work we do"—was truly inspiring. I think we should all strive to be able to say that about our own work too. (HELLO KITTY YouTube channel: Goal 3, "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages" @Bangladesh: Hello Kitty Supports the World's SDGs, Goal 3)

Kitty during her visit to the Rohingya refugee camp, interacting with midwives and children. Photo: Courtesy of Sanrio Co., Ltd.

—How did you feel, learning about the SDGs from the staff at the UN?

There were a lot of things I noticed and understood for the first time after talking to people who are actually working towards achieving the SDGs. It's motivated me to take what I've seen and learned and communicate it properly to everyone else out in the world. I want to take on all kinds of challenges to make the future a better, happier place.

Kitty posing with the #UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) tag. "#HelloGlobalGoals," that began in September 2019 as a collaborative effort with the UN to promote the SDGs, was recognized for its results, which were presented at the UN Headquarters in New York. Photo: Courtesy of Sanrio Co., Ltd.

—You're very active both in Japan and overseas. What do you keep in mind when meeting your many and varied fans from all around the world?

Thank you so much for being interested in my efforts. It would be amazing to me if my efforts would lead more people to feel that the SDGs are relevant to their own lives. When meeting people for the first time, I always try to have a smile on my face. I think it'd be nice if me smiling gets the people I meet to smile as well.

—Can you tell us about your upcoming trip to India in November, as part of an effort by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)?

In 2021, I created a song called "Let's Wash Our Hands with HELLO KITTY" in advance of UNICEF's Global Handwashing Day (October 15). It's been taken up as a part of their efforts to promote handwashing amongst children mainly in India, but also all throughout the world. During my upcoming visit to India, I'll be working to promote this effort, and also visiting a field that was revived by the United Nations Development Programme (the UNDP), as an effort towards Goal 13 of the SDGs, "Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts." I plan to ask the people of the town, who worked together to revive a field that was abandoned due to rapid climate change, about their story.

Kitty is also eager to engage in global efforts with organizations like the UN and NGOs, telling us, "Anything I want to do, I'll do!"

Kitty says that the key to becoming friendly with people all over the world is an energetic "Hello!", the empathy to try to understand other people, and last but not least, a smile. Her courageous efforts are bringing smiles to the faces of people all around the world.

Interview and writing by Kubotdera Junko
Photos (Portraits) by Hiraiwa Toru
Translation by Amitt