Sanrio Co., Ltd. (株式会社サンリオ Kabushikigaisha Sanrio ) is a Japanese company that designs, licenses and produces products focusing on the kawaii (cute) segment of Japanese popular culture. Their products include stationery, school supplies, gifts and accessories that are sold worldwide and at specialty brand retail stores in Japan. Sanrio's best known character is Hello Kitty, a white cat with red bow and no visible mouth, one of the most successful marketing brands in the world.
Besides selling character goods, Sanrio takes part in movie production and publishing. They own the rights to the Peanuts characters in Japan. Their animatronics branch, called Kokoro Company, Ltd. ("Kokoro" being Japanese for "heart"), is best known for the Actroid android. They participate in the fast food industry, running a franchise of KFC in Saitama.
Sanrio was founded by Shintaro Tsuji as the Yamanashi Silk Company in 1960, using 1 million yen in capital. In 1962, Tsuji expanded his enterprise from silk to rubber sandals with flowers painted on them. Tsuji noted the profits gained by simply adding a cute design to the sandals and hired cartoonists to design cute characters for his merchandise in response. In 1973 the company was officially established under the name "Sanrio". The company's European website says the name comes from the Spanish words san (holy) and río (river.) The book korega Sanrio no himitsu desu (これがサンリオの秘密です) or This is the Sanrio Company Secret gives another origin of the name. According to this book, Tsuji, Sanrio's founder, said that Yamanashi (山梨) , part of the company's former name, has an alternative on'yomi reading of sanri. The remaining o was added from the ou (オウ) sound people make when they are excited.
The company produced a line of character merchandise around gift-giving occasions Hello Kitty was added to the lineup of early Sanrio characters in 1974 and the first related merchandise was released the following year. The popular mouthless feline has had both peaks and drops in sales over the years, but always has been the highest contributor to Sanrio's sales. Other notably popular characters through the years have been The Little Twin Stars (created by Mr. Tsuji himself), My Melody, Keroppi, Tuxedo Sam, Badtz-Maru, Chococat, Cinnamoroll, Sugarbunnies, Jewelpet and Wish me mell. Sanrio constantly adds new characters to its lineup. Specific characters are rotated in and out of active production For a short time, Osamu Tezuka's baby unicorn character Unico, who starred in two feature-length anime movies in the early 1980s, was also part of the Sanrio empire; however, the rights to Unico shifted to Osamu Tezuka's own company after Tezuka's death in 1989.
In late 2003, Sanrio won the "Top Brand with a Conscience" award from the Medinge Group of Sweden for its communication principles. The company has partnered with UNICEF since 1984. In 2006, Sanrio launched Sanrio Digital together with Typhoon Games to expand to the Internet, online games and mobile services. 2010 was Sanrio's 50th anniversary. In conjuncture with this, Build-A-Bear Workshop released limited edition stuffed toys of several Sanrio characters, including Hello Kitty, Chococat, My Melody and Keroppi.
Hello Kitty is alleged to be drawn in a similar style to the rabbit Miffy. On August 26, 2010, Mercis BV, representing Miffy's creator Dick Bruna, brought suit against Sanrio with the claim that one of Hello Kitty's companion characters, a rabbit named Cathy, infringes on the copyright and trademark of Miffy On November 2, 2010, a Dutch court ruled against Sanrio and ordered the company to stop marketing Cathy products in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Sanrio and Mercis reached an out-of-court settlement on June 7, 2011 for Sanrio to halt production worldwide of merchandise that feature Cathy. Instead of continuing the court battle, the two companies will donate the legal fees to help the earthquake victims.
Sanrio Inc. is Sanrio's American subsidiary. Sanrio Inc. has offices in South San Francisco, California and Torrance, California. Sanrio's first Western Hemisphere store opened in San Jose's Eastridge Mall. In 2008, Sanrio opened its high-end boutique called Sanrio Luxe in New York City's Times Square. In the Western Hemisphere, Sanrio character-branded products are sold in upwards of 12,000 locations including department, specialty, national chain stores and over 85 Sanrio boutiques. In April 2010, the first and only Sanrio-licensed eatery (Sanrio Cafe) in the U.S. opened at Pearlridge's Downtown phase in Aiea, Hawaii.
In 2004, Sanrio Co. Ltd., expanded its license to one of its major licensee and plush suppliers Nakajima USA to include the owning and operating of all Sanrio branded stores in the US, overseeing the relationships between individual licensed stores and supplying all categories of products for the retail stores in the US and wholesale accounts.
- Main article: List of Sanrio characters
From 1977 to 1985, Sanrio produced movies through their Sanrio Films label. After A Journey Through Fairyland Sanrio switched gears and started doing short films, OAVs, and TV shows based on their characters. In 2006, Sanrio announced they are again going to do feature-length films.
- Little Jumbo (1977) (Chiisana Jumbo)
- Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? (1977)—with Korty Films and Charles M. Schulz Inc. (DeBolts wa daredesu ka? Soshite karera wa 19 no kodomo o doko de katta?) (won Academy Award)
- The Mouse and His Child (film)|The Mouse and His Child (1977) (Oyaro Nezumi no Fushigina Tabi or The Wonderful Journey of the Mouse Family) (with Murakami-Wolf-Swenson|Murakami-Wolf)
- Ringing Bell (1978) (Chirin no Suzu or Bell of Chirin)
- The Glacier Fox (1978) (Kita-Kitsune Monogatari or The Story of the Northern Fox)
- Nutcracker Fantasy (1979) (Kurumiwari Ningyo or The Nutcracker)
- Unico (1979)
- Metamorphoses/Winds of Change (1979) (Hoshi no Orpheus or Orpheus of the Stars)
- A Tale of Africa (1980) (Afurika Monogatari)
- The Fantastic Adventures of Unico (1981)—with Tezuka Productions and Madhouse Studios
- The Sea Prince and the Fire Child (1981) (Sirius no Densetsu or Legend of Sirius)
- The Ideon: A Contact (1982)—with Sunrise (company)|Sunrise and Shochiku
- The Ideon: Be Invoked (1982)—with Sunrise (company)|Sunrise
- Don't Cry, It's Only Thunder (1982)
- Unico in the Island of Magic (1983) (Yuniko: Maho no Shima he)—with Tezuka Productions
- Oshin (1984)
- A Journey Through Fairyland (1985) (Yosei Florence or Florence the Fairy)
- Mouse Story: George and Gerald's Adventure (2007) (Nezumi Monogatari: George To Gerald no Bouken)—with Madhouse Studios
- Cinnamoroll: The Movie (2007)—with Madhouse Studios, featuring the character Cinnamoroll
- Jewelpet the Movie: Sweets Dance Princess (2012)—with Sega Toys and Studio Comet
- Onegai My Melody: Yū & Ai (2012)—with Studio Comet
Sanrio also got involved into production of some TV anime during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some of the characters by Sanrio were later adapted into various anime series, starting with Hello Kitty's Furry Tale Theater in 1987. The character My Melody gained its first official TV anime, Onegai My Melody, which first aired on TV Osaka on April 3, 2005 and was produced by Studio Comet. The Sugarbunnies franchise was later adapted into a 7-minute short series in 2007, and was popular enough to gain two sequels. Jewelpet was also adapted into an anime metaseries in 2009, which was also produced by Studio Comet, spanning 5 official seasons and one theatrical movie, making it Sanrio's longest running anime series in history.
- Hello Kitty's Furry Tale Theater (1987)—with DIC Entertainment
- Hello Kitty (TV series)|Hello Kitty and Friends (1993)
- Flint the Time Detective (1998)—with Group TAC
- Hello Kitty (TV series)|Hello Kitty Paradise (1999)
- Hello Kitty (TV series)|Hello Kitty's Stump Village (2005)
- Onegai My Melody (2005)—with Studio Comet
- U*SA*HA*NA: Dream Ballerina (2006)—with Asahi Production
- Hello Kitty (TV series)|Hello Kitty: Ringo no Mori Fantasy (2006)—with Asahi Production
- Onegai My Melody|Onegai My Melody ~KuruKuru Shuffle!~ (2006)—with Studio Comet
- Sugarbunnies (2007)—with Asahi Production
- Onegai My Melody|Onegai My Melody Sukkiri♪ (2007)—with Studio Comet
- Sugarbunnies|Sugarbunnies Chocolat! (2008)—with Asahi Production
- Onegai My Melody|Onegai♪My Melody Kirara★ (2008)—with Studio Comet
- Sugarbunnies|Sugarbunnies Fleur (2009)—with Asahi Production
- Jewelpet (anime)|Jewelpet (2009)—with Studio Comet and Sega|Sega Toys
- Jewelpet (anime)|Jewelpet Twinkle (2010)—with Studio Comet and Sega|Sega Toys
- Jewelpet (anime)|Jewelpet Sunshine (2011)—with Studio Comet and Sega|Sega Toys
- Jewelpet (anime)|Jewelpet Kira Deco! (2012)—with Studio Comet and Sega|Sega Toys
- Jewelpet (anime)|Jewelpet Happiness (2013)—with Studio Comet and Sega|Sega Toys
Sanrio publishes many books featuring its own characters. Additionally, they publish art books (for instance, those by Keibun Ōta) and other books. Sanrio publishes books in many different languages, including Japanese and English. Sanrio published video games in the early 1990s under the name Character Soft.