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It’s 8am and a young girl is squeaking rapidly in Japanese on the other end of the telephone, ending with a hearty, English-language “bye bye!” It’s a wakeup call, one I only vaguely remember requesting, delivered in the supposed voice of Hello Kitty. Even though the famous not-quite-girl-not-quite-cat’s image is plastered over every inch of my hotel room, I silently curse myself for setting an alarm in the first place.

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I’m in Tokyo, sleeping off my jet lag at Keio Plaza Hotel (located in the city’s trendy Shinjuku neighborhood) where I’ve come to stay in one of the property’s eight specially-designed Hello Kitty rooms. (In all, they have 1,438 rooms, but the rest are given over to more of a modern-Japanese chic motif.)

Photo courtesy of Joshua Mellin

As an older, forever stressed-out millennial, I feel a spiritual kinship with Sanrio’s newer class of characters, particularly the job-hating, death metal-singing red panda Aggretsuko, and Gudetama, a lazy egg yolk who can’t be bothered to get out of its shell in the morning. Hello Kitty, on the other hand, doesn’t share my stress. Like Barbie before her, the perennial third-grader has been (among other things) astronaut, society lady, pirate and chief, despite the obvious handicap of not actually having a mouth. I was introduced to the character at five when a family friend gave me a handkerchief with her face on it. And even though my stash of related merch has dwindled—a pair of socks, a bank where I throw my change, ripped pajama pants I should probably toss—I still think of her as my mascot, even if I’m no longer part of the target demographic.

And so it happened that when an opportunity to stay in a branded Hello Kitty hotel room came along, I heeded the call to bask in her kawaii-laced moxie. After all, if her pastel-laced, perpetually cheery character can get me to actually chill out for a change, by all means—smother me in pink. Plus, I can never turn down an Instagram opp.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Mellin

My first night is spent in what’s called the “Kitty Town” themed accommodation—a pop-art heavy room with images of Hello Kitty experiencing Tokyo adorning the walls and carpet. While I didn’t pick this adventure because of my love of minimalism, focusing my eyes on any one portion of the room is a big ask. I spray a fine mist from the branded air freshener, soak in the hot pink tub, wash my face with the provided Hello Kitty-themed toiletries, blow my hair out with a hairdryer (also kittyfied, naturally), and rehearse how I’m going to tell my niece she doesn’t get the souvenir Hello Kitty plushie, dressed in the hotel’s signature blue and white kimono. (Sorry, kid.)

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I emerge from my impromptu mini-spa, something I never allow myself at home, with a growing sense of peace. That feeling only increases when I turn the waist-high Hello Kitty lurking in the corner toward the wall. Yes, she’s adorable, but this room is one utterance of “Come play with us” from turning into a Shining revival.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Mellin

In comparison, the Pepto Bismol palette of the “Princess Kitty” suite I stay in the next evening feels demure. The room is billed as a more sophisticated version of the two Hello Kitty rooms, or as the sign on the wall read, “a little world of my own to do as I please.” Spending two consecutive nights in elaborately themed hotel rooms is not unlike binge-watching Wes Anderson films, where repeating themes once seen as quirky now feel comforting. I take in the unique details with an expectant eye. Couch adorned with her trademark bow? (Sure.) Chair shaped like a high heel? (Why the hell not?) Her face stamped into my room service omelet? (Where have you been all my life?)

I celebrate my inability to take myself seriously within these walls by changing into a blue and white striped kimono (all the better to match my Hello Kitty doll—never let it be said I don’t fully buy into experiences), and drinking a pot of apple-flavored tea. Like any connoisseur of high art, I am smug in the knowledge that this is a deep-cut reference to her favorite food, apple pie made by her mother.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Mellin

All this doesn’t add up to cartoon Prozac, but it’s close enough. I’m still aware that earlier that day I was grinding my teeth as my train sailed by my stop. Or that I’m 16 hours away from home, and I’ll spend the return trip drafting emails on my phone. Rome wasn’t built in a day, even though my fingernails are often bitten to the quick during that exact time period. But I’ve flown half way around the world to surround myself with Hello Kitty’s sugar-laced escapism, and surrounded by bubble gum-hued evidence of her power, it’s hard not to give in.

But if that damn cat ever tries to wake me before noon again, it’s war.

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Tagged: Asia, Japan

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Laura Studarus

Laura Studarus

Laura is a writer/vagabond with bylines in Marie Claire, Vice, Bandcamp and Lenny Letter. Sometimes she can go several hours without a cup of tea. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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