My Neighbour Totoro first came into our lives a few years ago (after a brief trip to Tokyo for Mr R.). Since then, The Small People have been pretty much obsessed with everything Studio Ghibli (one of the more famous (and family friendly) anime film studios of Japan!)… It is them I have to thank for the more unusual birthday cakes I have been instructed to construct in the past, and which at times prompted incredulous looks from people not in the know about Totoro (the big grey creature himself was definitely more complicated than CatBus by the way!)! And so I think you can understand that we were never going to get away with a trip to Tokyo without a visit to the fabulous Studio Ghibli Museum!
The ticket process for the museum sounds a little more complicated than it is (you can’t actually get in if you just turn up!)… It is so popular, that you must apply in advance for tickets with your preferred dates and times. We ordered ours from the incredibly helpful JTB UK (you can get your Japan Rail Passes here too by the way!) for around £10 per adult and £4 per Small Person. Within a couple of days they had turned up and were stashed away ahead of our journey – it took the stress away of wondering whether we would get in!…
After a short train ride from Shinjuku to Mitaka, we followed the rather lovely Totoro signs from the Station. There’s a complimentary bus by the way, but the sight of the very normal yellow vehicle was a bit of a disappointment. I think the Small People were kind of expecting CatBus himself, but it’s not too far to walk and before long we were standing in front of a familiar face!
The museum opened in 2001, and is set over three different levels (including the roof). Although it’s not huge, I would set aside a couple of hours at least to get the most of it.
A word of warning – there is absolutely no photography allowed inside. I found this a little disappointing as a camera junkie, but in the end I could completely understand why – it does get busy, and if everyone stopped to take pictures it would make the whole experience a lot less enjoyable.
Your tickets include entry into the tiny cinema to watch a short Ghibli film unique to the museum, so we made that the first stop (it’s only 15 minutes long and not in any particular language!). Make sure you hang onto your cinema tickets, they contain a unique film-cell which you will need later in the fantastic Lens at Work Exhibition. This explains the entire photography and cinematography process, with the use of Ghibli films and characters to illustrate. There are great interactive displays too including a feature where you can find out exactly what’s on that film cell you now have in your possession!
We also loved the “Where a Film is Born”, a section set out in such a way that you could imagine the artists had just popped out for lunch. The walls are plastered with original drawings and beautifully detailed film cells, alongside baskets of worn out pencils, jars of their favourite sweets, and inspirational artefacts from their childhoods. I also found it incredible at how trusting the Museum is with items that must be worth a fortune!
To sum it up, I think I have yet to visit a more magical museum – the attention to detail everywhere is just stunning. We loved spotting our favourite characters in the stained glass windows (don’t forget to look up wherever you are here!), and the Small People did finally get to meet CatBus in a room upstairs where he was mauled and clambered over by half a dozen children. We also paid a visit to the Guardian of the Ghibli Museum – an enormous but beautiful Ghibli Robot who stands guard up on the roof. He really doesn’t mind if you have your picture taken with him either…
Of course, you can’t miss a trip to the shop before you leave. There’s something Ghibli in here for everyone, from beautiful ink stamps to Totoro silk scarves. And of course, the most famous character of them all had to come home with us!! Both Small People gave this museum a resounding high score of 100 out of 10, which I think you will agree is high praise indeed!
(We had hoped to grab something to eat here, but it was so busy. If you have the same problem, then we found great home-made pizzas and very friendly service at a tiny cafe, the name of which escapes me, but you can’t really miss it – it is in what used to be an old-fashioned petrol station just before the road that takes you back to the station. Enjoy!)