After a quick dash from my hotel in Shingawa to Boom’s flat in Bunkyo-ku to dump my suitcases (she is currently taking her Masters at The University of Tokyo wooooow o.O), it was another scramble halfway across the city to the Mitaka-Kichijouji area for my second visit to the Ghibli Museum. Officially known as Mitaka no Mori Ghibli Bijitsukan — Museo d’Arte Ghibli, Ghibli Museum is leisurely fifteen minute walk from JR Chuo Line’s Kichijouji Station, or a quick five minute bus ride from JR Chuo Line’s Mitaka Station.
Getting tickets to the Museum was a bit of an adventure in itself, as they can only be purchased beforehand from accredited travel agencies abroad or at Lawson convenience store ticketing kiosks within Japan — the museum itself does not sell tickets on-site. I got Boom’s and my ticket at a Lawson near my hotel — which was a lot harder than you think, given that Lawson stores were not as ubiquitous as 7-Eleven and Mini-Stop.
When we finally found one, it was a simple matter of following the onscreen instructions (uh it was simple for us, given that we both could speak fairly fluent Japanese) to reserve our date and time slots for the museum. Once the machine confirmed our reservations, it printed out a payment form that you took to the counter and paid for. The cashier will then issue you the official tickets stamped with the date and the time of entry, as well as a map and an information sheet for visitors. Just bring your tickets to the Museum gate on the day of your visit, and you’re all set.
I have a few tips for folks who would also like to visit the Museum during their trip in Japan. First of all, make sure you reserve your tickets at least three days in advance — any closer to your planned date of visit and tickets might already be gone. Try to get tickets on a weekday (except Tuesday, when the Museum is closed) — you have a bigger chance of scoring slots as weekend tickets are more likely to be sold out, and the Museum will be more crowded on weekends so it’s not as fun as on less crowded days.
To access the park from the nearest JR station, go for Kichijouji Station instead of Mitaka Station. Kichijouji is closer to the park, and it will save you about 30 yen in train fare (which is a big deal if you are a large group). The Museum accepts guests at four different time slots: 10:00, 12:00, 14:00, and 16:00, so you should be at the Museum gate a few minutes before the beginning of each slot. If you are a wee bit late, don’t worry — they do not close the doors until half an hour past the designated time.
Many of the Museum’s exhibits are hands-on, and you are free to play with them to your heart’s content. The only off-limits zone is the Neko Bus room — only children ages twelve and below get to play with the giant furry Cat Bus (UNFAIR!!! T_T). Finally and most importantly, the Museum has a strict no-smoking, no-photos rule — smoking can only be done at a designated spot outside the Museum, and photography is only allowed in outdoor locations such as the Cafe, the patio, the roof, and the building facade.
We went on the 14:00 slot on a Friday afternoon, so the Museum was slightly less crowded than on weekends — most of the people there were Koreans on the same tour group. The nice ladies at the reception scanned in our tickets, and then issued us our admission tickets to Saturn Theatre — the Museum’s short film screening room. The tickets are pretty cool — they are made from discarded film stock from old Ghibli films. My first ever ticket to Saturn had slides from Majou no Takkyubin (Kiki’s Delivery Service), and my new one has slides from Howl no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle).
One of the first things we did was head for the permanent exhibit on the ground floor: a wonderland of nickelodeon machines, panorama boxes, and strobe-light stop-motion animation devices. The centerpiece of the room was a giant revolving diorama of characters from Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro), that came to life when it was spun on an axis and a strobe light was repeatedly flashed over it. The room also had an antique film projector that screened silent short films made by Ghibli artists, done in the classic American style of the 1920s and 30s (think Steamboat Mickey).
We were just in time for the next screening at Saturn Theatre, so we got in line at the very back. We still managed to get good seats — near the projector where you did not have to tilt your head back to watch the screen. The short film screened during our visit was the Theatre’s seventh, entitled Pandane to Tamago-hime (Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess). It was a retelling of the old Russian fairy tale “Vasilissa the Beautiful”, but instead of Baba Yaga the evil hag enslaving a beautiful young girl, she instead holds prisoner Tamago-hime the little egg princess.
To complement the film’s release, a special exhibition featuring bread-making (one of the central themes of the short film) was created on the second floor. There you could play with different stalks of wheat, see old farm tools used in the harvesting of wheat, and have a go at grinding flour from oats, millet, or wheat. On the walls were the storyboards used by Miyazaki Hayao himself when he created the short film, with plenty of amusing side comments scribbled down the margins. Lastly, there was a six-foot tall statue of Mr. Dough made entirely of small pieces of bread — which I will not explain as it will give the plot of the movie away 😀
Alongside the Tamago-hime exhibit on the second floor were the life-sized dioramas explaining the animation process before digital animation — penciling, inking, cel-painting, backgrounding, in-betweening, the whole nine yards. It was interesting to note that most pencilers were men and most cel-painters were women; women were apparently more meticulous and more careful, making them better suited to the sensitive job of cel-painting than the slap-dash, hurried style of the male pencilers.
After a quick stop at the Neko Bus room (WHERE I WAS POUTING THE ENTIRE TIME BAW) it was up on the roof to visit the robot from Laputa, who watched over the Museum everyday without fail. We also dropped by the Museum patio, where a working hand-cranked water pump was installed for the amusement of children. Boom and I wanted to eat the at Mei’s Straw Hat Cafe — which was rumoured to have great omu-rice, but we were too full from lunch so we skipped that. Finally, we dropped by the Museum shop Mamma Aiuto — which was, as expected, crowded with Ghibli fans both young and old.
Overall, the Museum is a wonderful experience for fans of the iconic Japanese animation studio. You could spend hours just going around in circles and getting lost in its maze of hallways and nooks and crannies and doorways that lead to nowhere. Besides the shopping, this was easily the highlight of my trip — and if you are ever in Tokyo, you wouldn’t want to miss it.