Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo
Often called the "Disney of Japan," Studio Ghibli is well known for its beautiful animated children's movies. If the name doesn't ring a bell, you might be familiar with their work through titles such as Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle or Princess Mononoke, or perhaps its most famous and multiple award-winning director, Hayao Miyazaki. Not only does Studio Ghibli's work feature gorgeous and imaginative artwork and heartfelt music, they tackle serious themes like war or the environment while still maintaining a whimsical atmosphere. Each detail is precise, and each story is full of wonder. It is no surprise then that Studio Ghibli has a massive fanbase not only in Japan, but in the West, too.
In 2001, Mr. Miyazaki designed and opened a museum where fans of Studio Ghibli's movies could gather, learn, and have fun: the Studio Ghibli Museum. The motto of the museum is, "let's lose our way together!" which is meant to ignite feelings of exploration. The layout of the museum was built with that in mind. There is no set "course" to follow, as once you walk in, you are met with an open room, viewing three floors, and you are free to take whatever route you like. The décor is full of colors, flowers and a European country-esque design. Exhibitions vary from real sketches from the movies to "learning" activities about film and animation. Everything is full of heart and energy, and it is indeed easy to "lose yourself," whether you are an adult or a child.
When you find the museum, you will be met with a massive grinning Totoro, the popular official mascot of Studio Ghibli. Entering the museum is like entering a living storybook. Each floor has different exhibits, some that change seasonally. A highlight might be the third floor's "cat bus" play area, with a giant Cat Bus from the classic My Neighbor Totoro - but sorry guys, only kids are allowed (bummer, right?). If you go outside, you can climb onto the roof through winding stairs in a birdcage to reach the Rooftop Garden. Here you can find a life-size robot from Castle in the Sky, as well as a few other delights amid the flowers. Up on the third floor, you will also find a gift store, book store, and a cafe.
Another popular point is the mini movie theater on the first floor, and you bet it plays movies! In fact, it plays Studio Ghibli original short films (about ten minutes long) that are only available for viewing the museum itself! There are a bunch of movie possibilities, but only one is shown per month. True to the spirit of Studio Ghibli, the short films focus on visuals and telling a story through details. Totoro fans might enjoy Mei and the Kittenbus a "sequel" to My Neighbor Totoro.
If you are a fan, the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, Japan is a must-see. It can be daunting to get to, though, so here is some basic information.
The museum's exhibits aren't really marked with many signs or descriptions, and everything is pretty visual, so knowledge of Japanese is totally unnecessary. At the front desk, you can get a brochure about the museum, exhibitions and rules, and English is available - if you don't look Japanese, you will probably be offered one right away.The short movie will not be in English, nor have English subtitles, but some have no dialogue at all and the plot should be very easy to understand even if they do.
Tickets are mandatory and must be bought in advance (they are not sold at the door).They are typically bought at the convenience store chain called "Lawson." Each Lawson store has a ticket vending machine where you can buy tickets to about anything, from performances and shows to, of course, museums. Unfortunately, instructions are only in Japanese, however, translated instructions for buying Studio Ghibli Museum tickets can be found here.
One problem that tourists face is that same-day tickets are NOT sold, so must be bought a few days in advance. The museum is also extremely popular, and weekend dates can be sold out for months in advance. Weekdays are usually less busy, but be careful during Japanese "vacation" times, such as March and April (student holiday), or around New Year's.
Buying tickets abroad can be done through certain tourist agencies, and if your dates are not flexible, it is recommended to inquire plenty of time in advance to be sure to get a ticket.
Special same-day tickets are also reserved and sold for people who live in Kichijoji or Mitaka.
Admission for adults is ¥1000, or about $10. When reserving a ticket, you also must select the time of day that you plan to go, as to space out crowds, tickets are sold in time slots. Try to be there a half an hour before your time begins, because you might have to wait in line, and if the museum is sold out, they might not be able to allow late visitors in.
The Studio Ghibli Museum is located in Mitaka, a "city" in Tokyo. It sits in the beautiful Inokashira Park, a large area between Mitaka and Kichijoji with a big pond in the center and surrounded by trees. If you have time before or after the museum, hang out there for awhile. You can take a swan boat in the pond, relax and have a snack on the many benches, and, if you are lucky enough to go during cherry blossom season (usually late March or early April), take a stroll under the flowers.
To get to the Museum, go to the JR Mitaka station. It is only about a fifteen or twenty minute walk from the station, but there is also a special shuttle bus that can take visitors there for ¥200 one way or ¥300 round trip. It is also possible to walk to the museum from Kichijoji Station (again, about a fifteen or twenty minute walk) or Inokashira station.
Do not drive to the museum, as there is no parking.
Photography is not allowed in the museum, though it is permitted in all outdoor areas, including the Rooftop Garden and Straw Hat Cafe. Smoking and eating or drinking inside is prohibited, and you are asked not to use your cell phone while inside the museum. The museum hours are 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, though last admittance is at 4:00 PM. It is closed every Tuesday and on all Japanese national holidays.
The official Studio Ghibli Museum website is here.