A visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum – Mitaka, Japan 2016

How should I start? Why do I love this museum so much, and why is it so different, so irreplaceable? 

I’ll let Hayao Miyazaki tell you with his own words, from the Ghibli Museum’s official site

 

This is the Kind of Museum I Want to Make!

A museum that is interesting and which relaxes the soul
A museum where much can be discovered
A museum based on a clear and consistent philosophy
A museum where those seeking enjoyment can enjoy, those seeking to ponder can ponder, and those seeking to feel can feel
A museum that makes you feel more enriched when you leave than when you entered!

To make such a museum, the building must be…
Put together as if it were a film
Not arrogant, magnificent, flamboyant, or suffocating
Quality space where people can feel at home, especially when it’s not crowded
A building that has a warm feel and touch
A building where the breeze and sunlight can freely flow through

The museum must be run in such a way that… 
Small children are treated as if they were grown-ups
The handicapped are accommodated as much as possible
The staff can be confident and proud of their work
Visitors are not controlled with predetermined courses and fixed directions
It is suffused with ideas and new challenges so that the exhibits do not get dusty or old, and that investments are made to realize that goal

The displays will be… 
Not only for the benefit of people who are already fans of Studio Ghibli
Not a procession of artwork from past Ghibli films as if it were “a museum of the past”
A place where visitors can enjoy by just looking, can understand the artists’ spirits, and can gain new insights into animation
Original works and pictures will be made to be exhibited at the museum
A project room and an exhibit room will be made, showing movement and life (Original short films will be produced to released in the museum!)
Ghibli’s past films will be probed for understanding at a deeper level

The cafe will be… 
An important place for relaxation and enjoyment
A place that doesn’t underestimate the difficulties of running a museum cafe
A good cafe with a style all its own where running a cafe is taken seriously and done right

The museum shop will be… 
Well-prepared and well-presented for the sake of the visitors and running the museum
Not a bargain shop that attaches importance only to the amount of sales
A shop that continues to strive to be a better shop
Where original items made only for the museum are found

The museum’s relation to the park is… 
Not just about caring for the plants and surrounding greenery but also planning for how things can improve ten years into the future
Seeking a way of being and running the museum so that the surrounding park will become even lusher and better, which will in turn make the museum better as well!

This is what I expect the museum to be, and therefore I will find a way to do it

This is the kind of museum I don’t want to make! 
A pretentious museum
An arrogant museum
A museum that treats its contents as if they were more important than people
A museum that displays uninteresting works as if they were significant

Ghibli Museum, Mitaka
Executive Director
Hayao Miyazaki

 

Well said, Mr Miyazaki!

The Ghibli museum is more about artisanship, rather than theatrics. 

It celebrates creativity and imagination, without depending on special effects, test-screenings, anthemic music or hyping up kids with sugar.

For those of you who know and love Studio Ghibli, I won’t have to explain why the spirit of Ghibli does not get turned into a theme park. You’ll know why this museum is more like a large home to wander around in, rather than an entertainment centre. 

Don’t expect the crutch of blazing lights, hectic theme music, maniacally smiling characters in costume or staff speaking cult-like language. Don’t expect rollercoasters, hypnotic rides, or merchandise at every corner. 

The Ghibli Museum is not Disneyland, and this is why I love it. Don’t get me wrong, I love “Up”, “Ice Age” and I can sing “Frozen” in falsetto, if required, and I enjoy it. And I don’t think Ghibli is this charitable creative agency that doesn’t make any money whatsoever, I know it’s a business, but it does seem to value the integrity of its characters and stories above marketability. 

The museum feels like a workshop, a house built of wood, with colourful lead-glass windows and small doorways & exhibits that take into account the height of small children. It is low-tech and hands-on, and it encourages the visitor to wander through the building, with no set path, exploring as you go. 
For those who don’t know Studio Ghibli, you should go anyway, to see why the Japanese love these movies and this studio. If you want to watch some movies, let me suggest 4 movies by this studio to watch:

Spirited Away

Howl’s Moving Castle

My neighbour Totoro

Princess Mononoke

There’s tonnes more, so please do go search online and read about them. I’m sure you’ll find one that you like. 🙂 

And while you’re watching, here are some points to remember:

  • Everything is hand-drawn, hand-painted.
  • Movies aren’t “tested” for their “marketability” and plot-lines are not revised based on test screenings. 
  • Don’t expect the girl to get saved by the boy. In fact, expect her to save others or to have a motivation of her own. 
  • Female characters are strong, independent and complex.
  • Villians are also complicated and not one-dimensional.
  • Merchandise is not ridiculously priced and branding/ images are not slutted out to any production company so your kids won’t want to buy 500 reproductions of the same character in various forms for Christmas. Every. Freaking. Year.

 

Tickets to the museum are sold in advance – like 3 months in advance, so check the official site for your local authorised supplier. These tickets sold in advance are to ensure they limit the number of daily visitors, so the experience isn’t rushed or too crowded. A great idea focusing on quality. The official Ghibli museum site has all the info you need on how to get tickets. 

If you’re holidaying in Japan, I highly recommend contacting one of the approved agents to buy the tickets for you. They will send them to you before your trip (make sure you print these out as emails are not accepted at entry).  In Australia, I used JTB Travel to reserve and pay for my tickets.

If you are staying for a long period in Japan, and it’s low season head to any “Lawson” convenience store in Japan and use the red ATM-looking machine to pre-book your tickets. There should be tickets available, but if your stay in Tokyo is short, you’re better off booking in advance while you’re at home via an agent. Don’t risk getting to Tokyo and depending on getting tickets locally.

Some people sell Ghibli tickets on Viator, but I wouldn’t use them. And I strongly suggest you DON’T either. Why? These people are making cash and messing up the supply of limited tickets. They buy or reserve local tickets in advance with no intent of using it, and they put a huge margin on tickets to sell. They are buying them to make $, not because they love Ghibli. They’re essentially buying tickets for 1000Yen (approx AUD$12- AUD$15, depending on exchange rate), taking them from locals who would love to visit, and then selling them at AUD$71 (price as of Feb 1st 2016 on Viator’s site) to us cashed-up overseas visitors. It’s  not fair to the locals, nor is it fair to the museum, who is trying to keep ticket costs low and entry limited daily so people have a good experience. SO if you’re from overseas going to Japan, just make a small effort to plan ahead, and keep the supply of tickets as open and generous to all real lovers of Ghibli. 🙂 

How to get there? From Mitaka station, there’s a shuttle bus. OR you can walk along the canals and see the little street signs pointing you to the direction of the Museum with Totoro to guide you. This is my preferred way. It was so cute to see the signs to the museum with Totoro guiding you, along the way. Again, the official Ghibli Museum site can help with directions

 

One important note: It does not allow photography inside, which I believe protects the authenticity of the experience for each visitor. So you walk in like a kid with fresh eyes, with no preconceptions, with your imagination ready. So please don’t be tempted to take photos. 🙂 I love what it says on the official website:

“The Ghibli Museum is a portal to a storybook world. As the main character in a story, we ask that you experience the Museum space with your own eyes and senses, instead of through a camera’s viewfinder. We ask that you make what you experienced in the Museum the special memory that you take home with you.”

So, in the spirit of keeping the mystery & experience as close to the “real” instead of the digital, this post is going to show you some photos that will be as “out of context” as possible. Very little description. So when you do visit, you won’t have any too much of an idea of how the museum looks and you can find out for yourself.

I hope you’ll enjoy the photos below. 
This place encourages the small details – like the brick-work here, showing the “coat of arms” of the museum. 

There’s 3 hawks on the top left (“Mi-taka”, where the museum is located, means “3 hawks”), Totoro under a tree on the bottom. And top right – the boar relates to the park next to the museum “I no Kashira”, “Boar’s Head Park”. 

It was a gogeous sunny day when we visited. It was almost lunchtime when we got there, but there was a huge line to enter….

Once you are at the museum, you show your print out from the agency with your names and then you get the real tickets. And these are EXTRA special tickets. The real tickets that you get when you are at the museum are actually pieces of 35mm film prints that were used in theatres! My group and I were gleefully comparing the prints, and seeing where they were from. Squealing things like “oh yours is from Ponyo!”, “wait wait is mine from Kiki?” and basically being total Ghibli nerds. The magic already starts at the door. 🙂  

The building has a rooftop garden and the facade is covered in greenery….oh so Ghibli. Nature is such a strong theme in their movies, and this sense of connection to earth and peace translates to this building. It’s very welcoming – warm and organic. 

 

Speaking of details – I remember as a kid, when I’d be curious about some thing, I would get closer to take a look. I’d stare for a while or meander and day-dream, and you’re encouraged to do that here.

Be a kid again, step away from your smart phone, look closer and you may recognise some scenes or characters in the colourful windows…..

Who is THIS guy, I wonder?

And whenever I see this little fella, I hear the “click-clock” rattling sound in my mind, and I imagine him shaking his little head…

 

 

Tall pines, soft curves and rounded corners….these design and architectural details make for a sense of comfort and low-tech wonder which really conveys Ghibli’s sensibilities.

 

Wander up the roof top….and you may see….The guardian of the museum.

He looks over us all, standing at the top of the museum to protect us….And nature is all around him. 

Take your time in the garden as you walk along the rambling paths, there are some things to be found. I won’t show you what, but you may recognise some structures. 🙂

Shhhhh… he’s thinking……and yes, you can hear birds singing on a sunny day….like Laputa.

 

And if you’re thirsty, check out this water fountain….

It has a little step so it’s kid-height, which is such a key element in keeping with the empowerment of a child’s imagination in this museum. 

 

The Ghibli Musuem flag on the top of a stair way….

Such a beautiful blue sky. 

 

Ah, the “Straw Hat Cafe”! I would suggest eating lunch at this cafe. I’ll do a review on the cafe itself on another post. The food is great. There is a small stall on the side that sells hot dogs and soup for those who don’t have time.

 

Little touches give this museum soul….

Flowers in bloom….and I love this below….

…..a cute sink to wash your hands…small enough for kids and adults to use. 🙂

Anyone else recognise Porco Rosso in a straw hat above the menu? The prices were very reasonable, not at all like the theme parks I’ve been to. 🙂

 

As you wander around the place, don’t rush through it…you’ll see notice things in the small details, like seeing the dust motes from Totoro crowd in some of the windows……Or…..

The floor in the courtyard……wonder where that water is coming from? Find out when you are there…

 

And you can always put your bags in the lockers if you want to hang out for longer and not carry so much stuff with you….

Lots of space for your bags so you can take the time to experience and explore this great museum.

I’d also suggest you check out the museum shop. All items in the shop are made exclusively for the museum, so you won’t find these anywhere else. I have come across limited “authorised” Ghibli merchandise in other stores in Japan, such as hand towels and socks, but the ones in the museum are unique. They are beautifully made and have a certain amount of charm. A perfect momento of your trip. 

It’s also beautfiful at night time. We took our time looking through the museum and had dinner at the cafe. We left half-an-hour before closing, and the warm orange lights made it feel like someone’s home. 

And we said bye to Totoro before we left…..

He’s such a hard worker. 😉

 

So that wraps up my day at the Ghibli Museum, in Mitaka. 

The one thing I can tell you is that you won’t be bored! 🙂 This was my second visit to the Ghibli museum, and I never felt that the exhibits were tiring. I think perhaps because they don’t rely on technology, speed or special effects, they remain charming. I did also rediscover certain joys with some exhibits, as I took a more relaxed approach this time. And I did see more “secret” placements of characters, like dust-motes from Totoro crowded in certain windows….So there it was definitely worth a second visit for me.  Rest assured, there’s a lot of whimsy and levity to the museum. You’ll have to keep your eyes open, and your heart light! 🙂 

It was a delight to explore, to find characters tucked away in plain sight, hiding in corners, to see books that inspired movies or to flip through sketch books.

From the tickets you get when you enter, to the exclusive movie screened at the museum, it’s a wonderful experience for the young, and the young at heart.
Totoro's home, created by Hayao Miyazaki, is a Ghibli fan's dream.

Totoro awaits you. 🙂 

 

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