The entrance to the “Puro Village” area at Sanrio Puroland
It seems that most people in Japan who are into cute things have taken a trip to Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea at some point, but let me tell you a little secret: I’m not that into Disney. No, my obsession is with Sanrio and so it was with great joy that I finally visited Sanrio’s own magical kingdom, Sanrio Puroland, a couple of weeks ago. Opened in 1990, Sanrio Puroland is a forty minute train ride from Shinjuku Station, located in the rather grey looking Tama New Town.
The outside walls look a little old, but that didn’t stop me from being stupidly excited as my friend and I walked across the bridge that leads to the entrance. We bought passport tickets, which give you access to all the shows and attractions, and stepped inside. After admiring the massive central hall for a few moments we decided to try the boat ride. It’s a pretty standard dark ride and the theme is the Cinnamoroll characters preparing for Hello Kitty’s birthday party. As you travel through, various scenes light up and you are aurally assaulted by very loud cute voices! I am a massive scaredy cat and dark rides/moving models happen to be two of my greatest fears, so I spent the ride alternately thinking “Wow, cute!” and “Help, it’s dark! What if I fall out of the boat!” For normal people, however, this is just a cute boat ride.
Next, we took in a show at the Discovery Theater. The theatre is designed in a kind of steampunk style with exposed bolts and metallic walls, and it’s very cool looking. The show was about Cinnamoroll being accidentally transported to a future where there is no love and emotion and being transformed into an emotionless robot. The Jewelpets and two gorgeously attired lady dancers have to help get him back to his own time and change the future! It was very silly and fun and so cute that it did away with my inhibitions to the point where I was joining in with the actions and chanting “Power of…communication!” with all the little kids.
A show about Cinamaroll at Puroland’s Discovery Theater
The best attraction was probably the Kitty Lab section. Here you are given a strange little cloud-shaped plastic blob of ‘Kitty DNA’ which you use to walk around a mini Kitty-themed village, creating your own original Hello Kitty. Each spot has a row of computers where you place your DNA and are given simple tasks such as shaking it up and down or moving from side to side to dodge onscreen cars. If you win the game you can choose an attribute such as size, clothes, or favourite food for your Kitty, whereas if you lose these things are chosen for you. An updated version of your Kitty appears onscreen after each task, and at the end you get to take a photo with her. If you like it, it’s yours for 500 yen. I was pretty bad at the games to be honest, but the real fun was just looking at all the crazy buildings with their cute little touches like Kitty-themed signs, Kitty-shaped cakes in the bakery, and so on.
The “Kitty Lab,” where Puroland visitors can create their own Hello Kitty
For real Kitty-shaped food you need to visit one of the park’s restaurants. We opted for the Food Machine Restaurant where I chose cute looking bento based purely on what the boxes looked like, rather than checking what was inside. Being vegetarian I could only eat about a quarter of my lunch, but I didn’t care because it came in a lovely Cinnamoroll lunchbox on a very cute tray, which I kept. I also kept some chopsticks. And some plastic forks. And the napkins. And packs of sugar. I drew the line at keeping my paper coffee cup, but only just!
A Cinamaroll lunchbox from the Food Machine Restaurant
Kitty’s House was the last attraction we tried out. There was a 15 minute wait to get in, but once inside you are treated to the bizarre spectacle of an entirely Kitty-themed dining room, living room, and bedroom. I’m not entirely sure why we are supposed to believe that Hello Kitty would want to live in a house where everything is shaped like her head, but who cares, it’s cute! I think my favourite things were the Hello Kitty bath and also her bookshelves, which seemed to be stocked with almost nothing but English dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the complete works of Shakespeare! At the end you can get your photo taken with a giant Kitty. The staff take one with their camera, which you can buy if you like it and then one with your own camera, which is yours for free!
When it comes to taking photos, Puroland is really great. You can take photos of or film anything you want and not once were we told not to take a photo or to stop filming. Although they do take a professional photo of you after most attractions, you can look at the photo first to see if you want to buy it and you’re under no obligation to do so.
Naturally, there are several gift shops, the best of which is probably the Festival Plaza right by the entrance. It has a large range of plushes, stationary, sweets, toys, DVDs, etc. One of the coolest things was a section with phone straps featuring a wide selection of older Sanrio characters. I managed to get an adorable Tuxedo Sam strap, a character it’s quite rare to see nowadays.
Statue at the entrance of a pretend Hello Kitty bakery at the Kitty Lab
Of course, another highlight was meeting some of the characters. Forget Mickey and Minnie, Cinnamoroll and Mocha are so cute I could hardly contain myself when faced with wobbly walking versions of them. Yes, I know they’re just people in costumes, but that didn’t stop me from melting into a tiny puddle as they waddled towards me!
Other attractions include a range of different shows. The main one takes place in front of and around the Wisdom Tree and features Takarazuka performers. We caught glimpses of this show, but it was a little too syrupy sweet even for me! There’s also an arcade featuring Sanrio games, UFO catchers, and purikura booths!
So, if you are a big fan of Sanrio, and Hello Kitty in particular, it’s definitely worth taking a trip to Puroland. After hearing so many people talk of how happy they feel at Disneyland, I think I finally understand what they mean. Sanrio Puroland made me feel all happy and fuzzy inside so – go on – visit!
How to get there:
From Shinjuku, take the Keio Line train bound for Hashimoto. Get off at Keio Tama Center. It costs 330 yen. From the Keio Tama Center station either take the bus to the park (there’s a sign for it outside the exit) or walk. It takes about ten minutes and there’s a map in the access section on their official website which you can find here: http://www.puroland.co.jp/english/access.html