Shintaro Tsuji isn't joking when he says he wants to make Hello Kitty, his company's best-selling character, into a brand name that rivals Gucci or Hermes.

"Did you go and see it?" the founder and president of Sanrio Co. asked enthusiastically during our interview, referring to a 2.5-meter Hello Kitty statue installed in front of the recently renovated Sanrio store in Tokyo's shopping hub of Shinjuku.

"There are lots of brands created for shoppers by French and American companies, but there are only a few available for foreign shoppers coming to Japan," he said. "We get phone calls from foreigners who say they want to buy Hello Kitty goods because they have come to the home of Hello Kitty. So we renovated the shop in Shinjuku, mostly for Chinese and European customers."