The Japan guidebooks my two friends and I brought with us to Tokyo this spring break contained over 90 pages detailing everything from massive shopping complexes to wayward shrines. However, there was one thing that we wanted to see that wasn't in the guidebook.
“I want to know where the massive Hello Kitty complex is,” my one friend said with some disappointment.
I agreed. We were in a culture that seemed to contain an obsession for shopping only rivaled by its love of cute, button eyed cartoon characters. Kitsch and excess surrounded us. On the streets of Harajuku, girls in baby doll dresses could visit shop lined streets for necklaces with rhinestoned miniature burgers and pizza slices hanging from the end. Cell phones were bedazzled with cartoon charms and every restaurant seems to have a small, roly-poly mascot waving at you from the front window. Shopping complexes are centers of polished glass and chrome with vaulted ceilings that project a make believe sky. Huge ferris wheels dot the skyline. It only seemed natural that their habitat would be one massive monolith where we could be surrounded by all things Hello Kitty. I mean this is Japan, home to karaoke, sake, Ichiro, and of course Hello Kitty, right?
As we neared the end of our trip it didn't seem like this would become a reality until I picked up a small English map from an empty subway station titled “Handy Guide.” I was glancing through it later that night in my capsule bed at our Shinjuku hostel when I saw an ad for Sanrio Puroland. On closer examination a small photo of Prince Daniel and Hello Kitty all dressed up in their finest suit and ball gown (respectively) sat below the title. Come see your favorite Sanrio characters at this magical experience. The catchphrase was “Believe: love, kindness, friendship.” Perfect, I thought; I like all of those things.
A quick perusal of the Web site revealed that Puroland was actually a multi-story building that houses Puro Village in which Hello Kitty and Daniel preside over all of the cute and fluffy Sanrio characters (as well as Digimon, who are also a part of the Sanrio family). They put on multiple review shows a day on their six stages featuring dancing Sugar Bunnies, a play featuring Cinnamon, a Badtz Maru led dance party and Hello Kitty leading the Nutcracker as well as a parade. If that's not enough you can also tour Hello Kitty's house (which resembles a life sized Barbie dream house) or get a photo standing next to her pink, cat faced convertible, go on a boat ride, dress up as your favorite character, or make your own Sanrio personalized handicraft. The Web site says that passport cases are popular.
All three of us were giddy at the prospect of spending a day in a land every six year old girl dreams of, however we also knew that this was a park designed for actual children. It could be amazing—but it could also be painful. Think “It's a Small World,” on repeat, for 10 hours. We opted for the 2000¥ (around $21.00) evening pass, available on holidays and Saturdays, which will get us in the park from 4 p.m. until it closes at 8 p.m. This pass lets you see any of the shows while the 3400¥ (around $36.00) allows you to do everything in the park (besides getting commemorative photos) free of charge.
The next day we spent our morning at Ueno Zoo staring at a depressed looking Ling Ling (the panda) in preparation for a cuter type of animal later that night. The Tama Center, where Puroland is located, is a 40 minute subway ride from Shinjuku Station, one of the main stations in Tokyo, or so the Web site said. But we, like so many American tourists, have decided to travel without learning any Japanese. And we, like so many other times, got lost in the hectic Shinjuku Station. After an hour and a half we found ourselves in the rain running down a vacant looking street towards what we think is a sign for the center.
And then, there it was, a giant pink castle with golden turrets. As we neared the front a huge neon rainbow arches over the entrance. After purchasing our tickets we saw four foot sugar bunnies waddling away from us through rainbow hall, to prepare for their next show. We entered the center of the complex, Wisdom Tree Stage, and were suddenly surrounded by a fairyland, Sanrio characters danced below us, acrobats hung from bars and did flips, and unicorns paraded around the massive “tree” (of course not real) which sat in the middle of the room. The characters danced around singing about something we couldn't understand until Hello Kitty, in a glowing chariot, descended into the room from the ceiling. “She's so pretty!” squealed a friend into my ear.
After the show we went on the boat ride where you can view each character in its “natural” habitat. Cinnamoroll sat in his bakery with his friends, Espresso, Chiffon, Mocha, Cappuccino, and Milk. The smell of cinnamon rolls wafted out at us from some sort of machine in the back. We passed My Melody in her garden, Chi Chai Monochan lounging in a hammock, and then visited the four shopping areas before closing, no small feat when considering this building housed more Sanrio gear than any other place in the world. Then we scampered off to sing some Karaoke—what better way to cap off our Japanese experience than singing “Mr. Roboto” at the top of your lungs?