Personal Journeys

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

October 19, 2003|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Into the frenzied den of Hello Kitty

By Adam Kelley

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Though it's not listed in the "Temples & Shrines" section of any Tokyo guidebook, Sanrio Puroland, known colloquially as Kittyland or the Hello Kitty theme park, actually qualifies as both.

A testament to Japan's enduring fascination with animation in general, and with cuddly animated animals in particular, Kittyland is located within a cavernous pavilion on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Every day, thousands of Japanese make the pilgrimage to Kittyland, happily forking over $38 for the chance to mingle with fellow Kittyphiles in what is, ostensibly, Hello Kitty's natural habitat.

For the uninitiated, Hello Kitty is a white cartoon cat with a disproportionately large head, beady black eyes and no mouth. She is beloved among preteen girls worldwide, especially in Japan, where her likeness adorns toothpaste, crayons, cookies and soda. Pick any store in Tokyo, and chances are it sells something bearing Hello Kitty's well-trademarked visage.

As a member of Hello Kitty's unlikeliest demographic -- 32 years old, male and generally unaffected by treacle -- I entered Kittyland with curiosity. The pavilion itself was serene enough on the outside, but as I was walking through the turnstiles at the entrance, I began to sense a kind of rabid fervor in the air, as if I were walking not into Hello Kitty's house, but into Shea Stadium during the heyday of the Beatles.

There were excited girls everywhere, all in dark school uniforms. They were visiting on school field trips. Every once in a while, some poor soul in a Hello Kitty costume would wander by, triggering widespread pandemonium.

Kittyland has all the usual theme park trappings -- restaurants, rides and a massive gift shop -- centered on an enormous fake redwood called the Wisdom Tree. Crowds gather around the tree for hourly shows in which Hello Kitty and her friends, family and boyfriend, Daniel, descend from the ceiling in glittery clouds, touch down at the base of the tree and launch into song-and-dance routines.

The highlight of my trip to Kittyland was visiting Hello Kitty's house. Unlike most Japanese hostesses, Hello Kitty does not expect you to take off your shoes before crossing the threshold. You can just march right in.

Hello Kitty's kitchen is better equipped than most humans' -- she's got pots and pans of every size, a full spice rack and a magic kettle that whistles when you walk past it. Apparently, Hello Kitty does not use a litter box, and for some reason that I can't explain, this discovery alone was worth the steep price of admission.

Adam Kelley lives in Baltimore.

My Best Shot

Robyn Sotak, Eldersburg

Guardian of New Zealand

While studying abroad in New Zealand last spring, I traveled to the northern part of the North Island on a weeklong Easter break trip with friends. We took a bus tour to the northernmost part of the island, Cape Reinga. Our bus driver stopped for only a few minutes, just enough time for us to walk to the lighthouse and back. I turned around on the way back to take one last picture.

Readers Recommend

Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park

Debbie Mellor, Baltimore

My husband and I had the opportunity to visit Yosemite National Park this summer. The only thing I can say is: awesome! And, contrary to all we heard about the summer crowds, there were none. No matter where you point your camera in Yosemite, there is the most unbelievable scenery.

Pinch Pond Family Campground, Manheim, Pa.

Douglas R. Sentz Jr., Baltimore

Every summer, our extended family heads out on a camping trip. The most memorable campground we have visited is Pinch Pond Family Campground, in Manheim, Pa. It is perfectly situated 20 minutes north of Lancaster and 20 minutes south of Hershey. Don't be surprised if your family never wants to leave the campground, though. It has a private pool, basketball courts, an arcade room and a fishing pond. There is no better place for a father and son, or grandfather and grandson, to bond than on the banks of the pond.

Let Us Hear From You

We want to know about your travels, your experiences, your pictures. Here's how to participate in this page:

* My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

* A Memorable Place -- In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that changed you, about the nostalgia a certain place evokes, about the power of a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. (Cash value: $150.)

* Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

Because of the volume of responses, photos and manuscripts cannot be individually acknowledged or returned. Submissions from all categories may be used for Readers Recommend, and upon submission become the property of The Sun.

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