Studio Ghibli is among the greats in the world of anime so part of our guided tour included a visit to the Ghibli Museum. Like Maidreamin and Swallowtail, it has a strict “no-photo” policy, the only exceptions being the rooftop garden and Totoro’s Reception Area at the entrance. But hopefully, these few shots will convey the flavor of the museum.
I think they categorized this place as a museum because A) it’s not an amusement park (no rides) and B) it does have art exhibits. When we visited, it had a special exhibit on European fairytales (I think). But it’s so engaging and entertaining it goes beyond what most people think of as a museum.
The building itself was like something out of a pastoral Ghibli film. Located in Mitaka Inokashira Park, which itself is a beautiful place, the museum exudes a nostalgic kind of elegance through an interesting combination of polished wood architecture and Art Deco/steampunk touches. No bright lights or gaudy decor here. Yet it bears the Ghibli stamp everywhere you look. From the Totoros in the stained-glass windows to the Jiji cat faucet handles by the Straw Hat Café to the tiles in the bathroom. One of the Canadians in our group declared that she wanted to move right in!
The museum is definitely kid-friendly. For instance, the film we saw it at the museum (an original short that can only be seen there) was approximately ten minutes, perfect for a kid’s attention span. It also had no dialogue. (No need to worry about vocabulary and hey, that’s great for foreign visitors, too!). Plus, the theater benches were child-sized so all of us adults were sitting with our knees up to our chests. The spiral staircase in the main atrium is sized for kids, the Cat Bus play room on the third floor is limited to small children only, and the animation exhibits on the first floor are designed such that the best view is at kid height.
Still, it was plenty interesting for us adults (although we did have to bend over and kneel to take in some exhibits). Rooms on the second floor provide more grown up fare with an exploration of Hayao Miyazaki’s creative process. It takes you from a mockup of his drawing board and reference materials to exhibits that demonstrate the nuts and bolts of creating an animated film. Unfortunately, all the signs were in Japanese, but it was still cool to see preliminary sketches for classics such as Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke.
Yes, there is a gift shop (MAMMA AIUTO!). Yes, the goods there are really cool. No, we didn’t buy anything because everything was crazy expensive. We drooled at the Ghibli necktie, but we couldn’t justify paying $90 for it.
Visiting the museum
If you’re an anime fan visiting Japan, I highly encourage you to visit the museum. Our guide gave us about two hours there. I’d recommend allotting a half day if you want a leisurely visit, and tack on additional time if you want lunch at the museum cafe. By the way, despite Mitaka being some distance from the middle of Tokyo, a significant number of foreigners live there, and you can find a decent variety of international food in the area.
Tickets must be purchased IN ADVANCE (see their website for details). I REPEAT , you must make a museum reservation AHEAD OF TIME. (This doesn’t mean the museum won’t be crowded though. Three separate school field trips were crawling around the place while we were there).
There’s no visitor parking at the museum so your best bet is to take the train to Mitaka Station. A bus runs between the station and the museum, but you can also walk (approximately 15 min.) to get there.
By the way, if you walk, you get a little bonus. Signs along the route point the way to the museum, and they are, of course, done in Ghibli style.