I’ve been obsessed with the little white cat with a red bow since I was child, when Sanrio merchandise was far harder to come by. Whenever our parents took us to London, my sister and I would insist on a visit to Harrods or Hamleys, where I’d spend my pocket money on Hello Kitty stationary or sweets. Nowadays Hello Kitty merchandise is widely available on the UK high street, but most of it isn’t as cool as the stuff you can buy over here in Japan. In the UK Hello Kitty is firmly aimed at young, pre-teen girls, whereas over here there are so many different ranges to appeal to a broader market. It’s more about pretty pastels and cute, kawaii designs, than the bright pink stuff at home which seems to be more alike in style to Barbie or Bratz. I noticed the same with the Disney merchandise over here – it’s prettier, more subtle and cutesy in design, rather than garish and in-your-face. Sorry, I went off on a tangent there. Back to my love for Sanrio.
I read about the Sanrio theme park years ago, and I longed to visit, so today was a really special occasion. It was also Valentine’s Day, and what better way to spend it than surrounded by cute, kawaii characters. When I told my sister I was going to meet my one true love at Sanrio Puroland (the name of the park) she was slightly surprised, not expecting there to be many eligible single men visiting a theme park devoted to a cartoon cat. What I meant, of course, was that I was going to meet the little white cat who has been my cartoon companion for so many years; whose cute little face is printed on my bed linen, my vans trainers, my pyjamas, my stationary and a whole load more of my possessions. After all, who needs a man when you have Hello Kitty?
The park is located in Tama, a city in the west of Tokyo. As soon as you arrive in the city everything is Sanrio-themed. The train station decor features Sanrio characters dressed in blue station master’s uniforms, which appear everywhere from the platform signs to the stained glass ceiling as you exit the station. From the station it’s a short walk to the park, along a road that is actually named Hello Kitty Street. I was so excited on arriving at the park that I actually cried (unless I was just subconsciously sad about being single. It could have been that). I’d dressed in a Hello Kitty themed outfit and I was pleased to discover on arriving at the park that this was a perfectly normal thing to do. The only thing missing were some kitty ears and a hair bow, but fortunately the enormous Sanrio store in the entrance sold Hello Kitty and other character headbands, much like the Minnie and Mickey ears you find at Disney parks.
Outfit complete, I headed to the rides. All the attractions are quite small; there’s no spinning, going upside down, sudden drops or fast movements which suits me, because I’ve become more and more like my Mother as I get older (the tea cups were her limit), and I now need to lie down after anything more exciting than a carousel*. The first ride I went on was a boat ride featuring scenes of animatronic Sanrio characters. It was adorable (a bit like ‘It’s a Small World’ at Disney), with funny little scenes including the one below of Badtz Maru getting his bottom spanked, which was hilariously bizarre. There aren’t that many rides at Puroland, but there was still plenty to keep a 30 year old mega-fan like me entertained. There are lots of character meet and greets, walk-through attractions such as Lady Kitty’s House, Sanrio arcade machines, sticker booths and lots of food and shopping outlets. There are also shows throughout the day; I watched a sort of light show where Hello Kitty appeared from the ceiling on a swing whilst the audience sang along and joined in with the dance routines.
*Actually, even a fast carousel might require a sit down and a sugary drink.
There were lots of other groups of adults and teenagers without children which made me feel far less self-conscious than I might have, in fact as it was a school day there were very few children who weren’t part of school trips. Yes that’s right, there were children (mostly kindergarten) on school trips to Sanrio Puroland. No educational value, but how much fun would that be?! (Far more fun than a tour of the industrial estates of Leamington Spa which was an actual school trip I once
went on endured). Possibly the only disappointment about my visit to Puroland was the food. I’d kind of presumed that there would be veggie options, and I was super excited by all the character-themed meals I’d seen online. Sadly my options seemed to be limited to a ‘rice omelette’ with a mushroom sauce, which initially looked and tasted pretty good, until I discovered pork in the rice (as with many seemingly vegetarian-sounding options the meat wasn’t listed on the English description). To make up for it I bought some garish, brightly coloured popcorn, which turned out to be fruit flavoured and was actually too weird even for me, and I really, really love popcorn.
One last point to make about Puroland is that there’s a Daiso very nearby, so if you want Sanrio merchandise I’d consider visiting there afterwards, as they have an amazing range of stuff and SO much cheaper than in the park.
Having had my fill of cartoon characters for the day I returned to Tokyo to explore super-busy Shibuya again. I’d spotted a shop that sold an incredible array of socks on my first day, and I was really keen to go back. I have an obsession with frilly socks, and this shop (one of a chain called ‘Tutu Anne’) didn’t disappoint. They had socks in pretty much every colour and style you could imagine, and it was really hard to restrict myself to just a few pairs (in the end I managed to limit myself to 6). I’d seen quite a lot of Shibuya on my first night, but I still really enjoyed soaking up the busy, frenetic atmosphere around the area. I also found another branch of Yoshinoya, and had another delicious bowl of cheese and egg curry. I honestly can’t recommend this place enough for anyone looking for a cheap and cheerful meal.
On the lookout for pudding (as always), I wandered into a shopping mall called Shibuya 109, which is similar to the La Foret mall in Harajuku. It has loads of cute, small shops selling pop culture stuff and quirky and unusual clothing, and also another photo booth place like the one I visited on my first night (only this one had really awesome theming – see below!). There are several cafes and restaurants too, one of which served up huge slices of something called chiffon cake (it’s called Cafe Ma Maison). I wasn’t sure how it was going to taste, but it was absolutely amazing. It was a really light, fluffy cake, served with whipped cream and doused in a salted caramel sauce. And a parsley garnish, which seemed a bit out of place. Maybe they’d run out of mint?!
I went back to the hotel fairly early, as I was pretty exhausted from my adventures (and full of cake). One final highlight for the day was coming back through Shibuya Station and seeing Hello Kitty Valentine’s posters everywhere. One of the shopping precincts in the station had a Hello Kitty theme for their valentine’s marketing, including a special themed menu in some of the restaurants and this very cute little display, with kitty dressed in different costumes to represent the different regions in Japan. I was glad I wasn’t the only person who had opted to spend the day of love in pursuit of a little white cat with a bow in her hair.