Being a huge Hello Kitty fan, I have always tried to include some Hello Kitty themed activities in my travel. Such as visiting Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo, Hello Kitty Cafe in Taipei, Sanrio Hello Kitty Town in Malaysia etc. Never mind that I’m the only female in the family, the boys just get dragged along on my Hello Kitty crazes.
In Japan, the land where Hello Kitty originated, there is no lack of Hello Kitty themed activities. I have a bucket list of Hello Kitty themed travel ideas in Japan, and visiting the Hello Kitty Onsen is one of the items on the list.
So for our self-drive trip around Japan last December, one of the first things I did was to book a night at Shima Grand Hotel where the Hello Kitty Onsen was located!
About Shima Onsen
Shima Onsen is a pretty small onsen town in the Gunma Prefecture that I consider off the beaten track in Japan.
The word ‘Shima’ means 40,000. This is because the hot spring water at Shima Onsen is said to be able to cure 40,000 types of illnesses!
The town was not very touristy and somewhat rustic, drawing mostly a domestic crowd. The only point of interest I found was the Onsen Manju Kobo, which sold manju (buns) made with the Shima Onsen’s spring water.
Stepping into Shima Grand Hotel
Initially, I was worried about whether Shima Grand Hotel catered well to foreigners, especially since they weren’t listed on international booking sites like Agoda, Expedia, Booking.com etc. I made my booking through Rakuten.
My fears were quickly allayed once we checked in and was presented with a sheet of English instructions regarding dining and use of hotel amenities. While the staff did not speak much English, there really wasn’t much to speak to them about since everything we needed to know was on the instruction sheet.
In smaller and older onsen towns, the ryokans were generally filled with elderly Japanese folks. When we were in the lift with a huge group of elderly Japanese men, they looked at us very curiously and one of them decided to ask us if we were from Tokyo. When we said Singapore, the whole group of them went, “EHHHHHH????” It was pretty hilarious. But it goes to show how rare foreigners, especially with kids in tow, were in this area. However, this anecdote was in no way reflective of how kids-friendly Shima Grand Hotel turned out to be.
Staying with Kids
At the lobby, we could chose our Yukata and slippers and MF managed to find one his size. But there wasn’t any small enough for MY.
At the dining hall, kids utensils and high chairs were provided. In fact, if you have a baby, they could even arrange a cot next to your dining table! No kidding! The family on the table next to us had a baby and they placed a cot next to their table so that the baby could sleep comfortably while the rest of the family had their buffet dinner in peace.
During dinner, there was a section in the buffet with low tables for kids where you could find candy floss and chocolate fondue.
Another bonus was the stamp rally booklet. If you follow my Japan travel blog, you will know that my boys LOVE stamp rallies.
The stamp rally activity helped to keep the kids occupied after dinner.
The room was tatami style. I like staying tatami style with the kids because I can opt for no bedding for the kids (hence saving some money), but there is space for the kids to roll around. Never mind if they roll off the ‘bed’.
Hello Kitty Onsen
Okay, let’s get to the main reason why we were staying at Shima Grand Hotel: The Hello Kitty Onsen. Usually I don’t take photos of onsens because.. well.. photos are generally not allowed in onsens. But C’mon! This is a Hello Kitty Onsen! And I went at a time when everyone was busy having dinner and the onsen was totally empty. So yeah, I took tons of photos.
I peeked into the changing room to ensure there was nobody inside before I brought my camera in. Usually there will be naked men / women walking around the changing rooms so don’t just barge in with a camera in hand!
If there is someone else around, there are lockers outside for you to lock up your camera and wait until the coast is clear.
Check check. Yup, coast was clear.
MY and I went around the changing room taking photos with the different mirrors. For evidence that we were here.
We checked out the details. Because when it comes to themes, it is all about the details.
Look, there was even a Hello Kitty cot! What did I say about Shima Grand Hotel being kids-friendly?
Moving on to the onsen itself, again, there were Hello Kitty mirrors at the shower area.
Sorry for the crappy photos – the room was totally filled with steam!! I tried my best. This is why I never really liked indoor onsens.
The onsen was frankly quite small and other than the Hello Kitty pictures around, this was really not my kind of onsen. I prefer outdoor onsen overlooking beautiful scenery. This was too stuffy for my liking.
After a quick soak in the onsen, there was fresh Shima Onsen spring water for us to drink. Yummy, please cure the 40,000 illnesses in me!
And what better way to complete the experience than with shopping for some EXCLUSIVE Hello Kitty omiyage (souvenirs)!
Our stay included buffet dinner and breakfast. The dinner was pretty decent, with the usual free-flow of sashimi I would expect from Japanese ryokans.
There were self-cooking stations.
As well as a live cooking station which was serving freshly fried tempura. The tempura was my FAVOURITE dish here. I ate lost-count-of-the-number servings. It was the first time I had apple tempura!
There was carving station serving roast beef.
And even crabs! I felt like I was in Hokkaido again!
As for breakfast, I frankly don’t remember much of it. The only thing I remembered was the croissant with Hokkaido whipped butter. Seriously, give me Hokkaido whipped butter with anything and I won’t need anything else.
Shima Grand Hotel is a slightly dated onsen ryokan, so don’t expect any modern and fanciful furnishing. But in general when it comes to Japanese ryokan, the dated ones are much more affordable than the modern ones. So give and take. A stay here cost about 10,000 yen per pax per night (with fluctuations depending on season) with half-board. I thought it was pretty value-for-money!
Someone asked me before if the Hello Kitty onsen was just a marketing gimmick. I mean.. OF COURSE IT IS! All Hello Kitty related stuff are gimmicky. No? If you are looking for an enjoyable onsen experience, I will be honest and tell you that the Hello Kitty onsen, which was small and enclosed, wasn’t very enjoyable compared to some other onsen I have visited that were outdoors and overlooking nature. But wait, the Hello Kitty onsen wasn’t the only onsen at Shima Grand Hotel. They have other onsen (which I didn’t try out because, well, I came here for Hello Kitty onsen) which look more enjoyable.
If you are a Hello Kitty fan, go check out Hello Kitty Onsen at Shima Grand Hotel once for the fun of it. Been here done that! I am sure glad I striked off one item from my bucket list. And it wasn’t even that expensive.
Information on Shima Grand Hotel:
Address: 〒377-0601 群馬県吾妻郡中之条町四万4228
Map Code (what is this?): 554 063 070
Getting There: The nearest train station is Nakanojo, from which it is a 40 minutes bus ride to Shima Onsen (See details). The bus station for Shima Onsen is right in front of Shima Grand Hotel.
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