Japan: Ghibli Museum in Tokyo-A Must-Visit For Studio Ghibli Fans

[Photo Credit: Ghibli Museum Souvenir Program]

When in Japan: If you are a huge fan of Studio Ghibli or animation in general, visiting the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo is a must.

The brainchild of Hayao Miyazaki, renowned Japanese animator and co-founder of animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli, the one-of-its-kind museum is dedicated to all things Ghibli and the art of animation. Being a longtime Studio Ghibli fan—from My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea to The Red Turtle—visiting Ghibli Museum was hence my top priority whilst I was in Tokyo last November.

By Advance Reservation Only
Opened in October 2001 and located in Mitaka, a short train ride from Shinjuku Station, the Ghibli Museum is so exclusive that no tickets are sold at the venue. They can only be purchased online with authorized dealers which you can find on the museum’s website. As it is a very popular destination, tickets get sold out as soon as they are available. Thus, to avoid disappointment, I simply left it to my travel planner, Joey of Atlas Travelz, to book tickets for me and my travel mate after providing her with our preferred date and time of visit. It was with joy when she confirmed the purchase prior to our leaving for Japan!

Have your passport and ticket ready whilst queuing at the museum's entrance. [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

From Mitaka Station, it’s a 15-20 minute walk to the museum which is located in the west of lush Inokashira Park, but we decided to take the shuttle bus instead—which alas is not a Cat Bus but a vehicle gaily painted with Studio Ghibli characters—that goes from the station to the museum (round-trip ¥320/SGD4).

We chose the 2pm entry time slot as my BFF, who had visited before, said more than two hours will be needed to thoroughly cover every nook and corner including the museum’s exteriors. (Thus 4pm is too tight as the museum closes at 6pm). Besides tickets, a passport for identification purposes is also required for entry, so do remember to bring yours along if you have a ticket for visiting the museum.

For Your Eyes Only – No Photography Allowed Indoors

Just seeing the brightly colored, European-styled building, bedecked with leafy coverings, from the outside already made you feel like you are on the magical setting of a Studio Ghibli film. The glee of finally being there was halted somewhat when we were told at the entrance that no photography was allowed indoors. Sob! However, what awaited us within more than made up for that slight disappointment…

A Museum Where Those Seeking Enjoyment Can Enjoy

A Ghibli Museum poster showing a cross-section of the 4-story building. [Credit: Ghibli Museum]

In a museum souvenir program filled with his original concept illustrations, sketches and notes, Miyazaki stated the kind of museum that he wanted to make is one “that is interesting and relaxes the soul… where those seeking enjoyment can enjoy… and a museum that makes you feel more enriched when you leave than when you entered!” Well, it’s definitely all these and then some.

Upon entering you will be greeted by colorful flora and fauna, as well as recognizable Ghibli characters such as Totoro, Satsuki and Mei, painted on the ceiling and walls, as well as on the stained-glass windows. At the reception, a museum ticket in the form of a 35mm film strip is handed to every visitor in exchange for the ticket voucher. (Mine I think is a strip from Castle In The Sky but I have to re-watch the film to be sure!)

Fascinating Rooms and Spaces

[Credit: Ghibli Museum souvenir program]

From the reception, we went down a flight of stairs which brought us to the Central Hall in the basement, whilst its domed glass ceiling (with images of Ponyo and her sea friends) is way above the second floor. Here you will have a fish-eye view of the number of spaces you can explore – a spiral staircase, a cast-iron elevator, a bridged passage, intricately designed restrooms, etc. This floor also houses the Saturn Theater, a small but vibrantly decorated screening room that screens Studio Ghibli original short films made exclusively for the museum including Miyazaki’s last known work, Boro The Catepillar (2018).

Exclusive Screenings of Studio Ghibli Short Films

During our visit, we first got to watch Imaginary Flying Machines (2002), which features director Hayao Miyazaki himself in the form of a humanoid pig akin to the main character in 1992’s Porco Russo, narrating the history of aviation. The second was the charming and heartwarming tale of Mr Dough and the Egg Princess (2010) which tells of a tiny egg girl who decides to run away with her new dough friend, so to escape the clutches of her evil witch mistress. Both were equally delightful, well worth the 25-30 minute wait to get into the 80-seat theater.

Insightful Look Into The Art & Processes of Animation

One of the museum’s highlights are the rooms with exhibits devoted to the art of animation. In “The Beginning of Movement”, visitors get to see many original artworks from different Studio Ghibli films, including an amazing 3D Zoetrope “Bouncing Totoro” display showing how animators made Satsuki and Mei dance with a grinning Totoro in My Neighbour Totoro. In “Where a Film is Born”, rooms are bedecked with things you will find in the working spaces of an animator — from storyteller to background artist, staging to inker and painter.

There are also temporary exhibits that will change from time to time. For instance, the special exhibition we saw, “Sketch, Flash, Spark! — From the Ghibli Forest Sketchbook” —showing how the museum was designed and built—will run till May 2021 (tentative).

Other Enchanting Spaces

[Credit: Ghibli Museum souvenir program]

The museum also boasts a giant cuddly-looking Cat Bus which only young children can play with (bah!) Here’s hoping that the planned Studio Ghibli theme park in Nagoya due for completion in 2022 will have either a giant Totoro or Cat Bus that adults can play with!

Robot soldier at the museum's rooftop garden. [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

As photography is allowed outdoors, needless to say, the Robot Soldier from Castle in the Sky (1986)—who many mistook for the Iron Giant from 1999’s The Iron Giant (including us)—on the rooftop garden was a very popular selfie / wefie target. To get up here, one has to climb a towering iron-cast spiral staircase located outside the Cat Bus Room.

In the premises, there’s also has a library-cum-book shop, cafe (with indoor and al fresco areas, selling ice cream, hotdogs, etc), children’s play area, garden patio and an extremely popular gift shop named Mamma Aiuto! (Italian for “Mama, help me”.) Named after the sky pirates in Porco Russo, the shop has everything Studio Ghibli you would love to own, from pins to handicraft sets to adorable plushies. As we are not super rich, we found the pricing rather expensive sadly. But if you can control your must-buy urges, there’s a store within Tokyo Station that sells official merchandise at slightly more affordable prices. But of course, the museum gift shop also have more exclusive stuff.

Ghibli Museum souvenir programs available from the museum gift shop, Mamma Aiuto! [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

In the end, I decided to go for this set of two Ghibli Museum souvenir programs which cost only ¥1000 and also came with a complimentary, almost 4-foot long poster of a cross-section illustration of the museum (pictured midway in this post). The booklet top left is filled with Miyazaki’s original concept sketches of the museum as well as his thoughts of what he wanted for it, while the one on the right is filled with well-shot photos of the museum’s key features. And oh, I also bought a key-chain with a mini Totoro plushie ‘cos you just can’t leave here without a memento of the iconic creature. (Especially when it seems we missed seeing the giant Totoro figure that was supposed to be housed in the museum’s old reception!)

All in all, it was a totally worthwhile trip to the Ghibli Museum for this animation and Studio Ghibli fan. Do consider going if you are one too and planning a trip to Tokyo, Japan in the near future. You won’t regret it!

Ghibli Museum is in Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan. Closed on Tuesdays, special holidays, and often for periodic maintenance, so do check its website at http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/ for its calendar, ticketing details, and other information.

My Studio Ghibli haul (mainly plushies, socks, and towels), plus the Museum's cool film strip ticket. (Mind not my free Frozen 2 sticker sheet from a Shinjuku store...)

Read also:
* 5 Things We Want to See in Studio Ghibli’s Theme Park in 2022
* Studio Ghibli Sees First East-west Collaboration in the Wordless Wonder ‘The Red Turtle’
* 6 Great Fantasy Films That Studio Ponoc’s ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ Will Lovingly Remind You Of


The Magic of Hayao Miyazaki

yoko_outI have been a big fan of Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki ever since I saw his absolutely brilliant film, Spirited Away (2001), which tell of a 10-year-old girl who wandered into a world of strange humans, spirits and monsters, most of which took place in a mystical bathhouse. Despite being a 2D film, with hardly any special effects or cutesy songs,  it was a visual feast for the ears and eyes, from its stirring plotline to witty dialogue to stunning animation. It was the same with his later films, namely 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle – albeit the moving castle was more, er, moving than the male lead – and the truly hilariously mind-blowing and magical Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008).
THE WIND RISES. © 2013 Nibariki - GNDHDDTKMiyazaki’s latest The Wind Rises – much declared to be his last as he’s “retiring” for the umpteenth time – is more straightforward. It tells of the story of  Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II and the only magical bits are the dreams he had as a boy in which he receives advice from his idol, Italian airplane maker Giovanni Caproni, on pursuing his dream of being an aircraft designer. Frankly, with its somber undertones – earthquakes, weapons of destruction, deadly illnesses – it’s more akin to the brilliant but utterly depressing Grave of the Fireflies (1988, not by Mizayaki but Isao Takahata albeit from the same studio) – a tragic tale of a boy and his sister trying to survive in Japan during World War II – but thankfully, not as one-box-of-tissues heart-wrenching. The main thing is, in simple 2D, Miyazaki once again produced a film that offers vibrancy in colours, compelling characters and captivating plots in equal dosages.
windrises_brideNot to mention – SPOILER ALERT – one of the most heartwarming love stories ever committed to the animated celluloid in recent times (okay, Up in the first 10 minutes still wins hands down), including one of the funniest yet beautiful and touching Japanese wedding scenes ever.

Does The Wind Rises glamorises war? No it doesn’t. It just remind people to follow their dreams, but not by forsaking the people they love; to live up to their potential, without stepping on anyone’s foot or losing respect for a fellow human. It’s a very quiet film and I liked to thank the moviegoers at the cinema I was in who, along with me, respected the silences by ceasing to snack during those bits and not a single phone rang.

Let’s hope it won’t be Miyazaki’s last animated feature. The movie world needs more of these…

Photos credit: Studio Ghibli

Other anime must-sees:
spirited awaygrave of the firefliesponyo on the cliff by the sea

akira