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!
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
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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