Shinto in Kyoto: Good Wishes and Safe Travels

Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan since the 8th century, teaches us about spirits, or kami, who inhabit inanimate objects and the landscape in general.

Shinto Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

One way that we can communicate with these spirits is through inscribed wooden wishing plaques, or ema, that adherents leave at shrines. There were hundreds of miniature wooden gates (below) that mimicked the thousands of life-sized vermillion portals at Fushimi Inari (top), a huge shrine which reaches all the way up the side of a mountain southeast of Kyoto.

Shinto Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

Since the white fox is the messenger animal of the spirit Inari, he has his own special wooden wishing plaques, too.

Shinto Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

Making wishes sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But Shinto has a maudlin side, too. For example, jizo rocks represent the god who helps deceased children into the next world. Jizo gods can be found everywhere, each donated by a family who had lost a son or daughter. (And, yes, the bibs keep the god warm!) This particular collection was found in the middle of a strip mall in the Sanjo Dori area near our hotel.

Shinto Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

If I remember correctly, there was a Starbucks across the walkway from this shrine—and by the end of our week there, that kind of contrast no longer surprised me at all. Stay tuned for more on Kyoto’s mix of tradition and modernity.

Shinto Kyoto Japan by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

Naughty Hello Kitty

It is time for most of us to go back to work after the holiday, so here’s a little fun to start your new year right. This is part three of my Hallocks in Japan series. (Part one was Christmas in Japan and part two was Will Travel for Food.) But now I have a special treat for you: Hello Kitty!

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.
Samurai Hello Kitty (but cute, of course), and Hello Kitty at Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto.

Hello Kitty is a 1970s Japanese cartoon character that exemplifies kawaii, or cute culture, in Japan. And she is everywhere. I mean everywhere.

Not just on fancy, branded items, either—but there, for sure. As the photos below show, you can find (clockwise from top left) a Hello Kitty purse (which I did not buy), a Hello Kitty chopsticks trainer for children (which we got as a gift because how awesome?), a Hello Kitty Inoda Coffee store mug (normally I buy a Starbucks city mug, but not this time!), and a series of sake glasses (which I very much regret not buying at the Kyoto airport).

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

But that’s not all, folks. You can have Hello Kitty all throughout your home—even your medicine cabinet. Want Hello Kitty nail clippers? Yep, they’ve got ’em. Hello Kitty cutting board and placemat? Check out the bottom right corner. What about a Hello Kitty air mask to protect you in flu season? (About 10% of people I saw in public transportation wore such masks. Plain white ones, though, not cool Hello Kitty models.) Finally, don’t forget the fresh-butt-feeling you will get from Hello Kitty fruit-scented cleaning wipes. Butterfly approved!

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

Wait a second, Jen. Butt wipes? Let’s go down this My-Melody-rabbit hole for a moment. One of the most innuendo-laden promotions I saw in Japan was Lawson convenience mart’s soup bowl giveaway. Check it out:

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

Check out Hello Kitty and My Melody. Do they look a little, um, surprised? Maybe a touch . . . debauched? Compare this look to erotic Japanese manga, if you do not believe me.

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

What do these not-so-innocent cartoon characters have to do with miso soup bowls (the product being given away)? I have to chalk it up to being one of Japan’s fascinating contrasts: sappy, childish cuteness with an adults-only subliminal message.

Okay, okay, you want more soup, less sex? Then you want to go to the Hello Kitty tea house in the Ninenzaka and Sannen-zaka preserved districts of Kyoto. There you can get Japanese curry and vegetables, served on rice shaped like Hello Kitty’s head! Or a Hello Kitty pancake. Or a Hello Kitty matcha green tea sundae. If gobbling up your cartoon hero does not sound delicious, then you are not a true fan!

Hello Kitty in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

I am being a little unfair since my own favorite, Snoopy, is almost as popular in Japan as Hello Kitty. It also has its own branded store and cafe in Nishiki Market, Kyoto. Only great restraint (and fiscal prudence) kept me from buying up the entire shop. Look at those adorable Charlie Brown mochi!

Snoopy in Japan with Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious sex. Serious history. Happily ever after.

Soon, I will take a deeper look into Japanese history and show you around a few of my favorite places. And also sewer drains! Don’t forget the sewer drains. See you soon!