Visiting the Ghibli Museum was a truly magical and enlightening experience. The sheer volume of inspiration that Hayao Miyazaki consumes explains why his stories and animations are so rich and alive.
Let’s lose our way, together
Our visit to the Ghibli Museum was an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. Like most of Miyakazi’s movies it was touching, sweet and intriguing.
It’s funny because, to Japanese people, Studio Ghibli is children’s entertainment. You could say that Miyazaki is kind-of the Walt Disney of Japan. And true to form 99% of the other visitors at Ghibli were families with their children.
Which is why it’s mildly embarrassing to admit that Monique and I both got a teeny bit teary during our visit. I’m not sure if it was relief after the stress of the previous day, or the fact that Tokyo was so absurdly stimulating, or low blood sugar, or what, but we were both exceptionally sentimental.
Hopping off the bus in front of the museum was an exciting moment. The museum is nestled away inside lush parkland, and it’s ergonomic stone walls are wrapped in creepers and surrounded by trees so that the building becomes a natural part of the greenery.
There are clues that Ghibli is there though – the Iron Giant peeping over the top of the building, the adorable ‘Totoro’s Reception,’ and of course, the Museum’s entrance sign
When we exchanged our confirmation slips we were both given a site map and a movie ticket (made from three frames of a Studio Ghibli movie!). This entitled us to see a special one-viewing-only never-to-be-repeated-or-uploaded-to-the-internet screening of a 10 minute short film.
Descending the staircase to the ground floor of the museum was like entering a castle. The walls are designed to look like stone except in some places, instead of a stone, there might be a mosaic of May and Totoro or a stained glass window of the Forest Spirit. We both longed to take photos but, sadly, there is no photography allowed.
At the bottom things start to get even more whimsical.
Because the museum is largely meant for children almost everything is interactive. You can open little windows in the walls to see pictures of your favourite Ghibli characters or view beautiful glass dioramas of iconic film scenes. There’s even dioramas of the studio itself – a tiny Hayao Miyazaki sitting amongst his miniature cast of animators.
The room is darkened so all of the frames, dioramas, mannequins and stills stand out more. This is where we both got a little teary. It was just so wonderful in the truest sense of the word.
Next we lined up to watch our movie.
The ten minute short
Our movie was all about May and Totoro (awwwh!) and was almost unbearably sweet:
The movie opens and May is busy playing by herself, wrapped up in her imagination, and eating her favourite candy. It’s a very windy day and her sister calls her back home. She runs back and accidentally traps one of the wind gusts, who is actually a fearful young cat-bus, in her bedroom. The cat-bus is trying frantically to get out, but May befriends him by offering him a sweet, and then releases him back into the world – waving him goodbye.
That night she’s woken by the cat-bus who takes her on an adventure. May quietly gathers her things, careful not to wake her sister and mother, and then jumps into the cat-bus. She shares her sweets with him as they soar above the landscape – trees, rivers, fields, and houses falling away beneath them. May sees other cat-buses about all carrying Totoro-like creatures.
They arrive at their destination where May meets the venerable Patriarch cat-bus who eyes her coolly. After the thrill of the flight, May finally looks around her and realises that she is surrounded by Totoro-like creatures, all alone. She feels small and vulnerable.
Then in the faceless crowd May sees an umbrella. Her eyes widen with excitement as Totoro becomes visible. She yells his name and runs to him, to give him a huge hug, and share her sweets. Then her cat-bus friend introduces her to the elder cat-bus. She bows to say hello and offers him a sweet. He sniffs them and agrees to eat. Placing it on his tongue he chews. And chews and chews, thoughtfully, and shows his enjoyment and thanks by licking May. Totoro boards the elder cat-bus and May waves him goodbye. She returns home with the juvenile cat-bus, and wishes him farewell for the night, falling asleep soon after.
Once our movie was finished (and we’d both finished dabbing our eyes, pretending something must’ve got stuck in there) we ascended to the second level. Here we explored the absolutely mammoth amount of inspiration consumed by Hayao Miyazaki.
This level was a recreation of his studio and featured things like a giant waist-high, two-person-wide glass jar full to the brim with pencils in every colour imaginable. And books. Books everywhere. Books on shelves, books on tables, books stacked on the floor, books under other books, books hidden away in drawers. At every angle, in every place: books.
There were huge photo albums filled with photographs of buildings, people, events and places. Sometimes people were circled and little notes were made next to them. Sometimes buildings had stars next to them or rivers and trees were highlighted. Sometimes there were pictures of the same thing taken from every angle possible.
There were dozens of visual diaries showing well-known characters such as Porko, the Forest Spirit or Totoro as their earlier imaginings – when they were new ideas and rough sketches. There were rooms full of folklore and mythological illustrations, copied in black and white and sometimes colour – inspiration that Miyazaki explored from many cultures – Japanese, French, British, Ancient Greek, Egyptian and plenty more that I didn’t recognise.
It was simply astounding and humbling.
You come to realise that there is no such thing as true originality; ideas don’t just spring forth from nowhere. You realise the best way to stoke your creativity and passion is to fill yourself with as much varied experience, art, music, literature, travel, photography, dance and any other form of artistic expression that you can.
The final level of the building is mostly dedicated to the gift shop and, let me tell you, I have never in my life been in a busier shop.
Oh my god.
But there’s a lot of fun stuff to buy ranging from items that will cost you a few Yen (pencil toppers, colouring books) to those that cost tens of thousands of Yen (hand-made clocks, life-size figurines).
If you have kids there’s also a life sized cat-bus that they can play on while you take cute pictures. I’ll admit freely that I was seriously envious of those children.
I wanted to play on the cat-bus!
Finally you can take the glass stair-case to the roof to visit the Iron Giant. There’s a wonderful view and some adorable detail such as the grass that was growing out of the IG’s pants!:
Cafe and wrap-up
To finish our visit to Ghibli we headed outside for some food.
The cafe was completely packed with probably 20 (or more) people sat outside waiting to get in. We decided to grab a quick meal from the canteen instead – a hotdog and a drink.
Both were average to be honest. The ‘grape’ drink was the most unnatural purple I’ve ever seen and tasted a lot like what scented My Little Ponies smell like. But nothing could dampen our spirits.
Our visit to the Ghibli Museum was everything a Ghibli fan could want and more: wondrous, joyous and enlightening.
Until next time,
Kally & Mon.
Visiting the Ghibli Museum
The Ghibli Museum is located in Mitaka which is about 20 minutes out of central Tokyo.
Take the JR Chuo Line from Shinjuku station. You could easily walk to the museum from either Kichijoji or Mitaka stations but if you alight at Mitaka there is a community bus at South Exit Station Nine that will ferry you straight to the door. It’s 200 JPY for a one way trip or 300 JPY for a round trip.
The bus runs at the following times:
How much to get in?
Prices vary from country to country depending on your exchange rate. In Australia a ticket will set you back $20 AUD including the booking fee. Add on postage and you’re looking at around $25 in total.
The Ghibli Museum is open every day from 10:00AM to 6.00PM except Tuesday. The ‘Straw Hat Cafe’ is open from 11:00AM to 7.00PM but customers are not permitted to enter after 6.00PM.
The Museum closes for the End-of-Year and New Year Holidays (around 27 Dec – 02 Jan) and for periodic maintenance that is performed in:
- May (around the 21-31st) and;
- November (around the 5-15th)
Ghibli also closes (to foreign visitors) for a local resident day that is normally held near the end of September.
Check the JBT website for more year-specific information.
[Feature Image Credit: Monique Neilsen]
[Image Credit (1,2,4,5,6): Monique Nielsen]
[Image Credit (3): Anime Characters Database]
[Image Credit (7): Ghibli Museum]
Have you visited the Ghibli Museum? What was your favourite part?