As the trees get ready for winter, Cheryl Tay heads to Kyoto on a red leaf hunting mission after satisfying her inner child desires with the Hello Kitty Eva Air flight and a day at Harmonyland.
Japan is a place that I can never get sick of going to – I love the culture, the people, the food and basically everything that is Japanese made. I travel often to Japan for work, but most of the time I only get to see the airport, the highways, the circuits and the hotel rooms. Going on a personal holiday to Japan finally, I went on a Hello Kitty experience first before exploring Kyoto and all its religious splendour.
One Japanese worldwide icon that has found its way in various industries from shoes to cosmetics to electronics via collaborations is Hello Kitty. Without a doubt, Hello Kitty has distinguished herself into an emblem of the modern Japanese culture. As a huge fan of the cat with no mouth, I knew I had to get on the Hello Kitty flight operated by Eva Air when I first read about it in the papers. In collaboration with Sanrio, Taiwan-based Eva Air run Hello Kitty flights to seven destinations from Taipei to Shanghai, Tokyo, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Guam. I had to get myself to Taipei first though, before I could get on one of the five Hello Kitty-themed Airbus 330-300s.
It isn’t just the plane that has Hello Kitty all over it, but almost everything else you can imagine of the flight has the mouth-less cat.
The Hello Kitty flight experience begins with a dedicated self check-in counter that you will not miss.
Tucked in a corner away from the usual rows of check-in counters, an entire pink room with a row of Kitty-shaped machines await, along with other Hello Kitty in-flight items – such as paper cups, utensils, coffee and tea condiments, serviettes, playing cards, milk bottles, soap dispensers – displayed neatly in the windows.
You can also check in at the usual counters if you prefer.
The boarding pass is pink with Hello Kitty’s face on it…
…and the boarding gate at the Taoyuan International Airport is decked out in Hello Kitty décor, complete with a playground and a souvenir shop.
On board the plane the headrest has the Hello Kitty motif and each seat comes with a Hello Kitty pillow.
The in-flight entertainment screen welcomed us with many Hello Kitty cartoons, but of course, the movies were your usual Hollywood stuff and not all Hello Kitty.
Even the vomit bags, the plastic cover for the headphones, and the toilet paper have Hello Kitty printed on it.
I felt a little awkward using the Hello Kitty toilet paper to wipe myself.
Sporting baby pink Hello Kitty aprons, the flight attendants served us a meal dotted with everything Hello Kitty except the food. I was expecting more Kitty-cut food, like the ones I had at Taipei’s Hello Kitty Sweets Café which had hamburger buns with Hello Kitty’s face stamped on it and chocolates of Hello Kitty’s silhouette. The only thing Kitty about my meal was the little piece of carrot in Hello Kitty’s face shape.
The Hello Kitty flight experience was interesting, being surrounded by almost everything you can imagine with the Hello Kitty motif on it. Once the plane landed in Fukuoka, it was the end of the Hello Kitty flight but not the end of my Hello Kitty trip. Of all the destinations for the Hello Kitty Eva Air flight, I chose Fukuoka because I wanted to visit Harmonyland, a Sanrio character outdoor theme park located in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu. I have been to Sanrio Puroland – the Sanrio indoor theme park in Tama, Tokyo – before so I wanted to visit the other land of Hello Kitty and friends.
Compared to Puroland, Harmonyland is a bit out of the way but it has a larger land area so it doesn’t seem as crowded as Puroland which is literally Sanrio concentrated in one place.
I felt a bit old in Harmonyland, especially when I was queueing up to take photos with the mascots because around me were families of little kids.
Nonetheless, I shamelessly enjoyed myself and went through some of the interesting adventures like Hello Kitty Black Wonder and the Kitty Lab which are interactive time-based games with point scoring systems.
Those two intensive days of Hello Kitty satisfied my inner child desires for now and the next part of my trip in Japan was to Kyoto.
Having served as Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 until 1868, Kyoto is blessed with many temples and shrines that have survived till today. Kyoto became more popular as a tourist attraction after the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” was filmed at some of its locations like the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, the bamboo groves in Arashiyama and Gion the geisha district.
Putting up at a hotel next to Kyoto Tower – which I never went – I spent three full days exploring Kyoto and I know there is a lot more that I have not seen. Within walking distance of the Kyoto Station is the Nishiki Market. This market started as a fish wholesale district way back in 1310 when the first shop was opened there. It has seen changed from a wholesale nature to a retail one.
This market is a really long and narrow five-block street lined with shops and restaurants of food-related products ranging from fresh produce, fresh seafood, cooked food to Kyoto’s specialty sweets. It was really interesting to see tourists getting souvenirs and locals doing their daily marketing, but squeezing through the crowd in the narrow passageway was quite a pain.
Walking on, I found myself in Gion, the exclusive and famous geisha district in Japan. I was wandering around the old wooden buildings and teahouses, in hope of spotting a geisha. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see any this time.
Not too far from Gion is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, an independent Buddhist temple that was founded in 798. Named after its waterfall in the temple complex, people used to jump 13 metres off Kiyomizu as it was believed that those who survived would have their wishes granted. Of course, this practice has since been banned. Visitors to Kiyomizu-dera usually go to the Otowa waterfall to drink the water which is believed to have wish-granting powers.
On another day, I made my way to Arashiyama, a historic nature site that holds parks, gardens and several places of worship. An iconic landmark of Arashiyama is the Togetsukyo Bridge which marks the river where people rent boats for some romantic rowing or simply have picnics by the riverside.
There are bamboo groves to walk through and a monkey park too. Temples in that area include the Tenryuji Temple, one of the Kyoto’s five great Zen temples; and the Daikakuji Temple of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism, once a residence to an emperior.
If you have watched Memoirs of a Geisha the movie, you might remember a closing scene where the young Sayuri (who grew up into the role that Zhang Ziyi acted) runs through many orange gates. These are the torii gates of Fushimi Inari, a prominent Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. It is known for the thousands of torii gates which line the stairways into the sacred 233-metre Mount Inari. While most people stop at the Yotsutsuji intersection which is about halfway up the mountain, I managed to ascend the stairs to the top, resulting in aching thighs in the two days that followed.
The last attraction I visited in Kyoto was the Kinkaku-ji, also referred to as the Golden Pavilion. As its name implies, the Zen temple is gold, with its top two levels coated in gold leaf. Kinkaku-ji was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and was burned down a couple of times, finally reconstructed in 1955 and stands till today.
I chose to visit Kyoto at a time where the leaves were turning orange and red. I was a tad too early though, I only managed to see a few trees with red leaves while most of the trees were still green. There is so much more to see in Japan and I will never get tired of going back there. Till my next Nippon adventure!
View the rest of my Hello Kitty experience here.
View The Book Series @Kyoto, an interesting photo series of me reading a book through Kyoto, here.