Me and Hello Kitty, Sanrio Puroland, Tokyo, Japan , 2010
"Stephanie Harwin, who writes the cat-obsessed blog Catsparella, will go to great lengths to get her feline fix. On her quest to fulfill a lifelong dream—visiting Japan’s Hello Kitty theme park—Harwin endured a bout of severe food poisoning, a language barrier, and a long journey to reach her happy place." - Emma Sloley, Travel + Leisure
Hello Kitty Bus
I was recently interviewed by Emma Sloley for a Travel + Leisure article about the "Craziest places for cat lovers." Our contact came about through "Around the World in 80 Cats," my column dedicated to compiling all of the coolest cat-themed travel destinations in the world.
The column started as a way for me to research places I was interested in traveling to, although I've put off writing about the one cat-related destination I've actually visited, because of the overwhelming amount of kitty culture the country has to offer.
I've been thinking a lot lately about that aforementioned trip to Japan (March 15 - 31, 2010), and the enormous impact it had on my life. In the early days of Catsparella I wrote about my experience going to the Hello Kitty theme park, Sanrio Puroland, but conveniently left out the trip to the emergency room that preceded it.
Read More: Sanrio Puroland: Mecca For Hello Kitty Lovers
Street sign outside Puroland
Within hours of arriving after arriving in Tokyo, I came down with a case of food poisoning so bad, that I had to go to the hospital for treatment. To make matters worse, I was jet-lagged and all alone in an unfamiliar country, debilitated by a constant stream of vomit, dizziness, and unrelenting nausea.
Sanrio Character Boatride
I was in Japan on vacation as part of a group tour, but had arrived a few days ahead of everyone else so I could spend extra time exploring my own interests, which included a trip to the Hello Kitty theme park. Unfortunately, two of those "free" days were spent stuck, sick in my hotel room, leaving only one day, and a final opportunity to travel to the park that I had already come so far to experience.
Inside the Sanrio Character Ride at Puroland
Although I had barely eaten for days and was still extremely weak, I dragged myself out of bed to go. My amazing tour guide, Mya, gave me a map with directions to the park, which was well over an hour away, and involved taking a bus and two trains to get to.
"Believe" Parade at Puroland
Once I finally (and miraculously) arrived, I stuck out among the crowd which was comprised mostly of young, Japanese families. Still, someone was always nice enough to offer to snap a photo of me, and as soon as I had my picture taken with Hello Kitty, I knew that everything was going to be OK.
Maneki Neko Stand, Nakamise-dori, Tokyo
Hello Kitty with lucky black egg at Owakudani Natural Hot Springs, Hakone
Maneki Neko sign, Takeshita-Dori, Harajuku District, Tokyo
Philosopher's Path, Kyoto
While traveling across the country, I experienced the wonders of Mt. Fuji, cherry blossoms in bloom in Kyoto, and walked the streets of Harajuku's famous fashion district. I went to Nara park where you can feed the roaming deer, visited the world's largest bronze Buddha statue in Tōdai-ji, and can tell you firsthand that there's nothing more liberating in the world than getting buck-naked in an onsen (hot springs), thousands of miles away from home, with a bunch of people you've just met.
Store sign on Philosopher's Path, Kyoto
Cats in Kyoto
If I ever get the opportunity to return to Japan (and hope I do), my updated itinerary would include more Hello Kitty attractions, cat cafés, and a visit to Stationmaster Tama at Kishigawa Line in Wakayama. I also hope to someday make a pilgrimage to the famous Tashirojima (Cat Island), where the feline population outnumbers the human one.
Know of any cat-themed travel destinations, or have any cool kitty vacation pics to share? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!