It has been hard to convince people that my Hello Kitty-themed travel assignment to Japan was truly for work.
Their scepticism, I suspect, has something to do with my collection of Hello Kitty merchandise, which includes plush toys, a saucepan and a computer mouse.
Armed with my handy Hello Kitty moleskin notebook, I set off on a mission to eat, play, sleep and shop Hello Kitty in Tokyo last month.
My itinerary included a tour of Hello Kitty rooms at Keio Plaza Hotel and a visit to the Sanrio Puroland theme park.
Sanrio, Japan’s cartoon churning powerhouse, has worked with the Keio Plaza Hotel group to create the Hello Kitty rooms in conjunction with the feline’s 40th birthday last year.
Just a heads-up, Kitty fans may have to fight tooth and claw to book themselves into one of the 12 rooms in two hotels.
There are only eight Hello Kitty rooms out of 1,437 rooms at the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo, located in Shinjuku.
There are another four Hello Kitty rooms in its sister hotel, the Keio Plaza Hotel Tama, located in Tama City in western Tokyo. The 248-room hotel is a five-minute walk from Puroland.
At both hotels, the Hello Kitty rooms are fully booked on weekends from this month till July.
Located amid the regular rooms, the doors of the Kitty rooms are marked with a red bow as if to warn fellow guests: Herein stays a Hello Kitty fan.
I visited the Tokyo branch which features two styles of Hello Kitty rooms – Princess Kitty and Kitty Town. The Tama branch has only the Kitty Town rooms.
The design of the Princess Kitty room is based on the idea of the “aristocat” living it up at a resort. Lounge in a bow-shaped couch or a chair designed like a high-heel shoe. Rose prints of all sizes are plastered on the walls, carpets and curtains.
Sleep under the watchful eye of the royal feline highness, who appears in the form of a 3-D installation above the beds.
The Kitty Town room, in contrast, is a riot of pop colours with a mural featuring Kitty alongside tourist sights such as Mount Fuji and Sanrio Puroland.
The carpet is an extension of the colourful mural, except that there is no sign of Kitty on the floor. “You can’t step on Kitty,” explains a Keio Plaza Hotel staff.
Regardless of the theme, guests may end up having a sleepless night
Non-fans – unwilling spouses or boyfriends – may get nightmares from a Hello Kitty glut.
Ecstatic fans may end up staying up all night snapping keepsake photos. Almost every inch of the room is covered in photoworthy Hello Kitty items and decor inspired by the celebrity feline.
If you are a guest, you can busy yourself boiling water in a Hello Kitty electric kettle (I own this). If you are too lazy, simply drink out of a bow-shaped mineral water bottle (I bought this at Puroland).
Put three apples on a Hello Kitty weighing machine to find out how much Kitty really weighs. (The weighing machine is sold at the Haneda Airport duty-free shop.)
There is a 1m-tall Hello Kitty plonked on the floor in the Kitty Town room. Do not try to cart the massive Kitty home. I asked – it’s not for sale.
Instead, all Hello Kitty room guests get to take home a complimentary 15cm-tall Kitty plushie.
To get your Hello Kitty shopping fix, head to Puroland, a theme park filled with Hello Kitty and her cartoon pals from Sanrio. On the Sanrio website, more than 200 characters are listed.
Puroland (en.puroland.jp/) stocks a wide range of items – magic mops, ties, almond cookies, earpicks, selfie sticks, luggage bags, electric fans and more.
Take it from a fan, it is the sheer variety of Hello Kitty goods that endlessly feeds my love for the mouthless feline.
I was in wonderland as merchandise shops are strategically located throughout the four-storey indoor theme park. Sanrio fans, be prepared to part with your cash.
The shops are chock-a-block with merchandise featuring Sanrio characters – from top dog Hello Kitty to the popular rookie Gudetama, which is a lazy egg.
A public relations person on the media tour was stoked to find a plushie of a lesserknown penguin character named Tuxedosam.
Shopping spree aside, the theme park is a place for fans to go triggerhappy. At the Lady Kitty House, pose with a largerthan- life Hello Kitty tea pot and cup.
Highly trained Sanrio character mascots are also on hand for photo opportunities.
Every gesture of the Hello Kitty mascot is Kitty Kawaii-ness personified. She blows kisses into cameras, covers her face coyly and is all ready to hug visitors.
What caught my attention was the lethargic Gudetama mascot. Trust the Japanese to conjure a cartoon character out of an egg.
True to its sluggish nature, the egg-yolk mascot plonked itself into its shell before it was wheeled away on a trolley. Too lazy to walk, I imagined.
Thrill-seekers should head elsewhere as the park has only two child-friendly rides. I took the Sanrio Character Boat Ride, which is similar to Disneyland’s It’s A Small World Ride. Instead of dolls singing the tune of It’s A Small World in a loop, the ride features Sanrio characters spouting Japanese enthusiastically.
For the uninitiated, the ride serves as an introduction to Hello Kitty’s friends. See how many of the Sanrio characters you can identify.
There is an arcade area with kiddy rides, and UFO Catcher and Neoprint machines. A row of machines will dispense customised stickers with Sanrio characters for 300 yen (S$3.30).
I also caught one of the musicals at the theatre. Titled My Melody And The Legend Of Star And Flower, the 35-minute musical is a cross between a sappy Korean drama and a cartoon superhero flick.
Need to fuel up? Dig into snacks and dishes adorned with Sanrio characters. I spotted My Melody (a rabbit with a red hood) on cream puffs and pink steamed buns. Visitors can also enjoy a Gudetama omelette fried rice for a limited period.
Hello Kitty food and drinks are also peddled at the two Keio Plaza Hotels.
The lobby lounge at the Tama branch serves seasonal Hello Kitty desserts crafted by the chef. This summer season, the chef is serving up a citrus tart and a fruit parfait topped with vanilla ice cream. The desserts are accompanied by a sailor Hello Kitty wafer biscuit.
Over at the Tokyo branch, head to the Sky Bar on the 45th floor for specially concocted Hello Kitty mocktails.
I took a sip of the Pretty mocktail drink that is a mix of strawberry syrup, caramel syrup and cream. The verdict: It is as saccharine sweet as Hello Kitty.
At that point, I was suffering from a Hello Kitty overdose and was ready to check into rehabilitation. But hey, in a month’s time, I will be game again to check out the other Hello Kitty attractions on my bucket list.
The writer’s trip was sponsored by Keio Plaza Hotel and the Japan Racing Association.
Around the world with Hello Kitty
Hello Kitty Island on South Korea's Jeju Islan
No, this is not a desolate island where Hello Kitty fans get banished to. This is a Hello Kitty-themed attraction on Jeju island which promises to make your time there "the happiest day trip in the world". (Of course, this is true only for Hello Kitty fans.
Entertaining fans since 2013, the three-storey building is filled with Hello Kitty exhibits and a cafe. One can also catch a Hello Kitty 3-D short film.
Fans looking for interior design inspiration can check out Hello Kitty's house. Her bedroom is decked out in pink, bows and Hello Kitty motifs.
Fly to Taipei on EVA Air's Hello Kitty jet
Taiwanese airline EVA Air is making the Hello Kitty jet a permanent fixture for the Singapore-Taipei route from June 21.
The move has been prompted by the overwhelming demand for the jets that were introduced for a limited period last December.
Spend five hours in an airborne Hello Kitty world. Kick back and relax in plane seats with Hello Kitty headrests and cushions.
Relish meals with Hello Kitty utensils that are served by stewardesses wearing Hello Kitty aprons.
If non-fans get sick from Kitty overdose, there is always an air sickness bag with the Hello Kitty motif plastered on it.
For more information, go to evakitty.evaair.com/
For bookings, go to www.evaair.com or call the ticketing and reservation office on 6226-1533.
Hello Kitty Hot Spring at Shima Grand Hotel in Japan
Japan is famous for therapeutic hot springs or onsens. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that the ubiquitous Hello Kitty would find its way into an onsen one day.
Among the more than 200 onsens in Gunma Prefecture is a Hello Kitty-themed indoor onsen (right) at the Shima Grand Hotel that opened in January.
Soak up the onsen's beauty benefits surrounded by Hello Kitty decor. The women-only onsen features a large bay window that boasts a view of the hotel's natural surroundings.
For more information, go to www.shima-grand.com or call +81-279-64-2211.
Sanrio Hello Kitty House Bangkok in Thailand
Perfect for an afternoon with fellow Kitty fans, this is a spa, cafe and gift shop under one roof. It opened last August at SQ1 Shopping Mall in Bangkok
Hit the spa to get Hello Kitty designs painted on your nails. The spa also offers facials, body waxing, eyelash extensions and massages.
Head to the cafe to sip coffee with Hello Kitty latte art and savour Hello Kitty-shaped popsicles.
For more information, go to www.sanriohellokittyhousebangkok.com
Call the spa reservation hotline on +662-115-1335 extension 13.