Phil in Kitty Land
Trip Start May 08, 2005
45Trip End Aug 16, 2005
My pilgrimage was to Sanrio Puroland.
The large Japanese population in Los Angeles gave me my first exposure to Sanrio products at an early age. Then the stuff seemed to disappear off the pop-culture map for a while. This year, Hello Kitty turned 30 and has become seemingly omnipresent as she approaches middle age. Target's shelves abound with all things Kitty, from toasters to blankets to t-shirts to cd players. I have even seen a white VW Bug (new model) cruising the streets of KC with a big Kitty Decal on the side
In the fall 2004 semester, I was assigned a class project about international marketing. The current consumer climate weighing heavily on my mind, it only seemed fitting to do a report on Sanrio, Hello Kitty's owner. I learned that in addition to licensing the likeness of HK to just about all comers, the company also maintains 2 theme parks in Japan. One happens to be within 40 minutes of Tokyo. Not only did this seem like an opportunity that was too good to pass up, it became a quest in itself.
I took the train to Tama Center and I was welcomed courteously to Kitty's town. Just as Disney put Anaheim on the map, Sanrio has made Tama, a sleepy, uninteresting suburb of Tokyo, into a destination for young children and slightly twisted American grow-ups alike. In Tama, all roads lead to Puroland....there doesn't seem to be anywhere else to go.
I have found very few images of Puroland on line and their English web site leaves quite a bit to be desired so I really lacked any sense of what to expect. I had seen pictures of the main entry so when I viewed the rainbow looming large on the horizon, my heart filled with glee. Every man must find his mountain to climb
W O W!!!! Stepping through the gate, I felt I had been transported to a dimension where everything was so overwhelmingly cute I was sure my head would explode. The entry hall had life size, plush Sanrio characters welcoming children and adults alike. I was shocked to see the Japanese people, usually so reserved, lose their cold facade and embrace these walking dolls with glee.
I bopped down an escalator into the main park area. Like everything else in Japan, the place was pretty small, but the Kawaii to square meter ratio was through the roof.
There were several children sitting on the floor around a makeshift stage while a woman in a gothic lolita costume led the jamboree of a dancing dog, penguin and something brown with arms and legs. I didn't understand a word of it but the kids were loving it. I moved on the Sanrio Character Boat Ride.
I went on this ride 3 times so that I could get enough pictures
I visited the "Hello Kitty's House" exhibit where everything that could be made into the shape of Kitty's head was. Chairs, a hearth, the sofa, bed, table, computer, doorways...all of it. At the end of the trail, you get to take a picture with kitty....They too were quite shocked to see me.
I hung around the park for a couple of hours. I went on a really violent Gundam Raiders 3d anime ride; very cool but somewhat out of character for the place.
Towards the end there was the big show of the day in the main hall where Hello Kitty and her boyfriend trot around with all the other Sanrio characters. It reminded me of the Main street Electrical parade with Chinese contortionists thrown in for flavor.
I visited the gift shop
I was kind of concerned that i would feel really pervy at Puroland, but I didn't. Somehow, I was just as foreign there as everywhere else I visited in Japan. Certainly there is a buzz in the back of my head about the absurdity of a 31 year old man visiting a place like this.....certainly.
Later that night, as i rode the train into Shinjuku station, I saw a salary man text messaging. Dangling from his cell phone was a Sanrio charm....sweet vindication.