Studio Ghibli, the animation studio behind classic animated films including Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away, has been amongst the most prominent and venerated exports of Japanese culture to the west. The films of Studio Ghibli and it’s head, Hayao Miyazaki, were right there at the beginnings of my own awakenings into Japanese culture; Nth generation fansub VHS tapes passed from University student to University student through “internet”, and they somehow wound up in the hands of a bunch of 13 year olds in Brampton. Through the grainy, fuzzy, poorly-tracked screen we could see into a world that was beautiful and deadly and sad-but-hopeful, visions of our own world: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was a revelation.
What’s that you say? There’s a Ghibli Museum in Japan? And it’s easier for foreigners to get tickets through local Japanese cultural agencies than actual Japanese? Let’s go!
Continue Reading Behind The Cut:
The Ghibli Museum is in Mitaka, a medium-sized suburb of Tokyo just a few train stops from Shinjuku Station. As a brief aside, we almost never had a problem getting _anywhere_ we wanted to go in Japan. From Mitaka station to the bus stop that goes to Ghibli, there was always clear, well laid-out English signage to direct us.
Ah yes, The Bus Stop! From the Mitaka train station, the Ghibli Museum is really only a 2km walk or so, but having walked 40 km since I got to Japan and with an overcast sky threatening to open up at any moment, we decided to take the (relatively inexpensive) shuttle bus to the Museum. The bus is, of course, branded with the Heraldry of the museum as well as little nature icons. Also? Japanese buses are adorable.
I decided to wear the new shoes I picked up in Harajuku the night before. Long day on your feet + new shoes? Awesome Idea!
Okay, I’ve tried not to play the “foreigners are different than us, and therefore hilarious!” card at all during this, but I totally lost my shit when I read this on the bag of the guy in front of me waiting for the bus.
I saw you sad.
and your sadness is very sexy.
strong fragile man you know what I mean?
because this is love, maybe.
JUST ARRIVE NEW DESIGNS
A LIFELESS ORDINARY. DOUBLE STANDARD CLOTHING
Hey, hey reader? Your sadness is very sexy. Just putting that out there.
Sadly, we got a standard Mitaka City bus that was cute, but not Ghibli-themed, and therefore less cute.
The approach to the museum is neat, with little bits of it peaking through the trees even before you ‘arrive’. The museum is built into an actual park-area, so it’s surrounded by lots of lush green trees and grass, and a small community.
Because of the threat of rain, the Museum had put out awnings to keep us dry whilst waiting to head inside.
The museum is not just a building. It’s sort of like an embassy from Narnia or Wonderland–the aesthetic of Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s films in particular pervades every aspect of the experience, from the exterior design which has a very… unique feeling meant to integrate with the surrounding park to the interiors, which feature the lush dark woods and design of films like Spirited Away and Kiki’s. There is no point at which you think “oh, they forgot to design this bit”. Except for the awnings out front.
In Japan, particularly anywhere you want to be, they don’t want you taking pictures. So while this Totoro stained glass is pretty awesome, it also got me ‘spoken to’ and asked not to take anymore pictures inside… Because of this, I was not able to take many photos inside.
This is the interior of the main hall, which goes up more than three stories and ends in something pretty cool…
These photos are of the little grotto pictured a few photos ago. It was really lovely and serene.
You can’t really see it, but the skylight at the top of the main hall has a bladed ceiling fan, with the blades constructed to resemble airplane or flying-machine wings from films like Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Also? Little walkways and hanging tapestries everywhere. Neat!
Did I mention there’s a giant stuffed catbus for kids to climb on? There totally is. I really wanted to climb the catbus, but man, would that have been awkward. If you’ve got kids, take them while they’re still young enough to appreciate the above.
The third floor leads to a spiral metal staircase, that leads to the rooftop garden. This is the utterly awesome top of the spiral staircase.
Tourist shot. So, I’ve been waiting to do this for years now. It was very fulfilling. Hehe.
A path continues along behind the statue deactivated robot husk, and into the rest of the garden, which feature something else very cool.
This will mean nothing to you if you haven’t seen Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
For me though? Awesome.
Some photos from the roof.
The thing is, if Miyazaki wants a water fountain, he designs an amazing steampunky water fountain with a fun handle and that works as an art object.
Or you know, why not make an awesome leaf-shaped bench with a spinning handle?
After the character goods-focused photos from last time, sure you aren’t interested in an exhaustive photography piece on the inside of the Ghibli Museum shop. <-- This is the lie that I'm telling myself, because I know you want photos of all of the exclusive and rare Ghibli stuff but they wouldn't let me take photos and so I've let you down. I'M SORRY.
We decided to end our trip at Ghibli’s cafe, but with a 45+ minute wait to get in, we decided to try out their little outdoor snack bar instead. Hot Dogs, Ice Cream, Curry, and Beer? Don’t mind if I do. Notice the Porco Rosso.
Look, it’s Ghibli-themed beer! Let’s GET ONE!
This? Really good actually! It’s chilli with a quail egg on top and a delicious Miyazaki beer. This was a really nice little place to chill out and enjoy the surroundings, on a raised patio surrounded by greenery and happy families.
There’s a close-up on that label for all of you fans…
The last stop on our trip was to check out a free showing of a Ghibli movie only screened here at the Ghibli museum. Yay! We headed back down into a courtyard we had missed the first time.
This was a working well that we could not work very well. Nifty though!
This was the drain for that pump. Yeah, that’s just a drain cover…
This is part of the outside of the movie theatre… I really wish I could show you more, but there were staff everywhere. I guess you’ll just have to make the trip and see the museum… or more of it… for yourself!
As for the film we saw? It was an adorable little movie about a lost dog, that was incredibly easy to follow despite being in Japanese. The kids were enraptured the whole way through, awesome.
That marks the end of our trip. Some unhappy Japanese policemen kept the peace in the bus line-up, underneath an awesome Totoro bus stop sign.
And so we left Mitaka behind, with a lovely shot of its downtown core just outside of the train station. It’s a beautiful little city, and with all of the greenery as well as the bustle and proximity to downtown Tokyo, it seemed like just-about the most perfect place to live that I found while I was in Japan. Of course it’s probably a billion dollars, but still! Who else decorates their main street in pink lanterns? I’m on board for Mitaka. :)
As for the museum itself? It’s something that I think every Miyazaki fan should see. Sure, they wouldn’t let me take any photos, but the museum gift shops actually had two amazing books for sale on Ghibli and on the Museum, one was a thick book full of photos of the museum for like five bucks, and one was a massive tome done in the style of the Ghibli art books, on the history, vision, and construction of the museum, in both Japanese and in English! It even includes several interviews with Hayao Miyazaki! If you see it for sale anywhere, pick it up, it’s got a wonderful amount of insight into the mind of this master of Japanese animation.
…then we got on the train to Kyoto. But that’s for next time.