I’m a massive fan of the anime films of Studio Ghibli (creators of Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princes Mononoke etc.) so the first time we visited Japan in 2006 a visit to the Ghibli Museum was top of my list. We were on an organised tour but managed to schedule a visit on one of our free days in Tokyo. It’s a massively popular place for both the Japanese and for tourists so non-residents have to buy their tickets before arriving in Japan which you can do online.
The museum is in Mitaka, a short train ride from Tokyo and is pretty easy to find, thanks to Totoro’s signs. You can also get the amazing, Ghibli decorated bus there but it really isn’t far. It’s so popular you’re given a time to arrive at and ours was the first of the day so we were queued up at opening time with a few classes of cute Japanese schoolkids, all wearing coloured caps decorated with their choice of cute character, from Pokemon to Doreamon – it was so kawaii. When you first arrive there is a fake entrance manned by Totoro himself along with a little window stuffed full of dust bunnies!
Inside the real entrance there are stained glass windows featuring various Ghibli characters and an intricate painted ceiling. We were handed our tickets which include random film cels from Ghibli films! I got scenes from Totoro and my sister got The Cat Returns. You also get admission to the cinema which shows exclusive short films made by Ghibli. These change regularly and aren’t available elsewhere so you really are getting a treat. The film we saw was of a red pigtailed girl going on a walking trip through the forest – there was no speech but instead all the noises were exaggerated and animated. I can’t remember a lot about it now but it was really fun.
The building was custom designed with Ghibli and is full of secret corners and hidden staircases with surprises around every corner. It’s designed to be explored, rather than you being guided round in a certain route. The kids seemed to really enjoy this aspect and there were always one or two peering into every window to see what was there. The actual displays of work upstairs were interesting though mainly consisting of drawings from various stages of the films along with a few models. Downstairs is an exhibit showing how animation works – the Totoro zoetrope is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, a revolving set of 3D models that magically come to life via strobe lights. It’s impossible to describe but it truly feels like magic. Sadly there’s no photography allowed inside so you’ll just have to go see it yourself! You can see a few photos of the museum interior here.
On top of the buildling is a roof garden guarded by a massive model of one of the robot soldiers from Laputa, where everyone gets their photo taken. There’s also a huge plushy Catbus to jump on but sadly kids only. No fair! Outside are some cafes and a picnic area but we found it was very expensive so didn’t partake. Of course, there is also a shop that sells literally everything Ghibli, from intricate models, jewellery and plush toys to DVDs, CDs and books. This was the first time I had to break out my credit card in the trip and I came away with some amazing stuff, including a jar of Ghibli boiled sweets which were far too cute to eat.
If you’re a Ghibli fan, this is a must see and if you’re at all interested in Japanese anime then you should enjoy it. Kids would definitely enjoy the building and the zoetropes and the animations. If you only have a casual interest then it probably won’t seem worth the money or effort required with booking tickets, set times, trains and appointed times. I would definitely go back though. And if you’ve never seen a Ghibli film then there’s some links at the end to my favourite Ghibli films which are available from just £5 these days!
How To Get There
The Ghibli Museum website has lots of info including how to buy tickets and various maps. The museum is near Mitaka station, about 20 minutes on the JR Chuo line from Shinjuku. It’s then a short walk, following the Totoro signs, or the Ghibli bus is just outside and runs regularly. The museum is right beside Inokashira Park, which is huge and has some nice walks.