For an expressionless little white fur ball, Japan's Hello Kitty puts up a mean fight in the cultural jungle.
Once the defining measure of girls' craze for cuteness within Japan, the pop feline today can be found staring out from the handbags, sweat shirts, notebooks, and now debit cards of children and night-clubbing art students alike around the globe. And as she marks her 30th anniversary, Hello Kitty's combination of Mona Lisa mystery and saccharine sweetness has become an unlikely symbol of the shift in Japan's global reach from cars to culture.
Hello Kitty - which earns $1 billion a year for its owner, Sanrio Co. - isn't alone among Japanese cultural creations in finding an audience in the West.
But Kitty isn't all hugs - there's also some serious money involved. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government estimates the size of Tokyo's anime industry alone at 1 trillion yen (about $9 billion).