8 June 2013
Author: Catherine Nguyen – City and Regional Planning
For the last full day in Tokyo students were given a free day. There were no lectures to attend, no walking tours scheduled; we had free reign on how to spend (for some of us) our final day in Tokyo. Many students took this opportunity to catch up on much needed rest, shopped around for souvenirs, or just walked around to soak it all up. I took a road much less travelled and ventured out to Tama New Town with my new buds Jessica and Lakan. Jessica spearheaded our voyage, figuring out the best route to a destination we had excitedly anticipated all trip. We left around 11 AM from Shinjuku Station and took the Keio Sagamihara Line, heading west to Odakyutama Center Station. Our commute zipped us out of cosmopolitan Tokyo and into the ‘60s developed suburbs of Tama New Town within 45 min.
We had been to Tama New Town before to tour the suburban developments, to discuss the challenges that come with an aging population with the Urban Renaissance Agency, to witness the successful intervention of community gardening, and to learn about the new redevelopment project by Brillia. We came back to Tama because there was a major destination that had not been covered in our trip and we just had to see it. For some it would be like going to India without going to the Taj Mahal. For us, our final destination in Japan was Sanrio Puroland. For some people, this might not ring any bells and would warrant utter confusion. For you friends, I’ve got two words: HELLO KITTY.
Hello Kitty and all her friends – Kerrioppi the Frog, Melodie the Rabbit, and the Little Twin Stars – have been with me my whole life. They are a line of characters that appeared on all my notebooks, pens, pencil cases, backpacks, piggy banks, rings, etc. Basically my whole universe as a child was comprised of these characters and now as a 29 year old woman, I have come full circle to their motherland in Japan, Sanrio Puroland.
Sanrio Puroland has not only had an impact on my whole existence, but also on Tama New Town. The indoor theme park is a destination marketed towards female toddlers, adolescent teens, and grown women. But, really it is an all inclusive kind of place; people even get married here (Japanorama, 2006)! Emerging from Odakyutama Center Station we ascend to the main promenade flanked with banners welcoming you to Hello Kitty’s Town. The public maps, provided to help locate where you are and where you are going, are embellished with Hello Kitty and all her friends welcoming you to their town. The map has a kind of style and character, making you feel like you’re looking at a map that Hello Kitty made herself. The buildings that we passed followed suit in décor; whole facades replicate that similar feeling that you’re now entering a special place. Oh, and it was.
Visiting Sanrio Puroland reinforced some of what Dr. Sasaki Yoh lectured on at Waseda University. She discussed how cities use Yuru-chara, a mascot, as a means of creating local identity and character. Hello Kitty serves as a mascot in the same way as these Yuru-Chara in and around Odakyutama Center Station not to mention a blazing example of Kawaii culture, ubiquitous in Japan. It just leads me to think that Hello Kitty has had a part in community building and gives me hope that she will too be used as a tool in grappling with the challenges of a new generation. In this sense, the circle doesn’t end here, she and I will be walking hand in hand into a future of community based city and regional planning!
Kawaii. (2006, October 12). Japanorama. London: BBC.
Sasaki, Y. (2013, May 4). How Can We Describe the Identity of a Town or Region?- Visualization of Regional Landscape for Machizakuri. Waseda University and Pratt Institute Workshop. Waseda University, Tokyo.