by Devon Sponheimer
Looking to check out one of the most whimsical museums in Japan? In June, the Japlanning team headed to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka for an animated adventure.
The first thing you’ll need to know is how to get tickets to the museum. With limited entry each day, here’s how.
You will need to buy your tickets in advance in your home country. The Studio Ghibli Museum only allows 200 visitors per day and tickets in Japan can only be purchased at Lawson Convenience Stores in Japanese language only. More to the point, they may already be sold out! The museum provides a helpful website that lists authorised travel agents in each country that can book tickets.
If you don’t live in a country listed, (or have a retailer located close to you!) you can purchase tickets with a credit card online through those vendors. Note: although the adult entry fee is 1,000 yen for the museum when purchasing in Japan, expect to pay more through the vendors who charge a handling fee. Ticket prices will vary be travel agent and country. For the Japlanning team, it cost $20.00 per ticket in Melbourne. (But rest assured, that was well worth the additional cost for any Studio Ghibli fan!) Again we do not recommend waiting until you get to Japan to purchase the tickets as to avoid disappointment and complications.
Here are a few points to remember-
- You may purchase your tickets up to three months in advance
- You will need to select a date and time of entry: there is a window of time in which you must be at the museum so pay attention to your tickets!
- Tickets (if not sold out prior) will be available until a day before
- No cancellations or date changes are allowed
- You will need to provide the names and nationalities for the tickets
- Make SURE to bring your tickets with you to Japan! You’ll need to provide I.D. (passport) to museum staff for entry.
- Re-entry is NOT allowed, so make sure you explore the museum throughly before you leave
Getting There - Taking the Cat Bus
The museum is located in Mitaka and you’ll need to take the train from there, full details are at the end of the post. But here’s the exciting part: from Mitaka station, head outside and arrive to the museum in style in no less than a cat bus. You heard that right.
Well, okay. It’s not THE cat bus, but it is a bright yellow bus cheerfully decorated with Studio Ghibli characters. And there is a cat face on there, so naturally it qualifies as a cat bus. Pick up a round trip ticket and enjoy the short ride to the museum.
After exiting the bus, take a bit of time outside of the museum. Check out the Studio Ghibli stained glass, and the Totoro greeting you from the window. If it’s raining (like on the day we were there) they will have adorable Studio Ghibli themed tents covering the entry. Once you hand over your ticket at admissions and get a special film strip “ticket” featuring ACTUAL 35mm cells from Studio Ghibli films! This ticket is good for one viewing of a Studio Ghibli short at the museum AND yours to keep as a souvenir!
First rule of the Studio Ghibli Museum is “No Photography or Video Inside”. This also applies to mobile phones, which must be turned off. You are allowed to take photos while outside, and can do so before entry and when exploring the roof of the museum. The benefit of no photography is it does allow you to take time to really enjoy the museum instead of focusing on getting the perfect shot (or more appropriately, getting in everyone else's way while trying to get your perfect shot).
The official website perhaps puts it best “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.”
The museum had four floors including the roof, so start on the bottom and work your way up. You’ll enter on the main floor and be lead down a flight of stairs to the bottom floor’s Central Hall; a beautiful open space, decorated with stained glass, rich dark wood, and ironwork. Take a few moments to explore the space before heading off to the exhibition rooms. The entire museum is very detailed and fans will love looking for our favorite characters “hidden” in paintings and stained glass works throughout.
Adjacent to the Central Hall is a great exhibit that contains one of my favorite parts of the whole museum, the “Bouncing Totoro” Zoetrope, featuring your favorite characters from My Neighbor Totoro. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a Zoetrope is, it’s “a device that produces the illusion of motion from a rapid succession of static pictures”. The characters are set up on a rotating platform in different positions, when the platform begins to spin, it gives the illusion of animation. *please note that the zoetrope uses flashing strobe effects, if you are sensitive to this type of lighting*
This room also lists all of the Studio Ghibli films (how many have you seen?) and features the display “Rising Sea Stream” From “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” (a cylindrical display on perspective in animation)
Perhaps one of the coolest parts of the museum is the ability to watch a Studio Ghibli short film only playing at the museum. The Saturn Theatre, located on the bottom floor, allows visitors of the museum this opportunity. We saw Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess, a cute story of a bread man and the Egg Princess he protects from an evil witch you may recognize. You can only see the film once, but don’t fret as it’s the same film played throughout the day. The projection room is fashioned after a train car so guests can see into it and learn how a film is projected. Take a seat wherever you like and enjoy this very special experience.
The main floor of the museum contains all of the special and permanent exhibitions. Currently, the special exhibition is “The Lens at Work in The Ghibli Forest”. To really explore how films are made and designed, the exhibition allows visitors to use lenses to get a close up look at small items, and see how lenses can manipulate objects in shape, size and brightness. And remember those film strip tickets you received at the entrance? You can also use them in this interactive exhibit which runs until approximately May 2014.
The permanent area offers a look into animation itself, exploring how these films are created and gives guests the opportunity to look through the films storyboards. Take a walk through “Where a Film is Born” area, an fictional office that gives the impression that Miyazaki has just left his desk and could be wandering around the museum.
The main floor also contains the book store “Tri-Hawks” (a pun on Mitaka where the museum is located) Guests of all ages can look through books, hand selected by Miyazaki It’s also a great place to purchase the official Studio Ghibli guide in English, which comes with two illustrated books and a beautiful watercolor of the museum (only available in Japanese). Other items for sale here include the "The Art Collection of the Ghibli Museum" includes cell art, art print cells, hand painted cells, and woodblock prints of scenes from Studio Ghibli films.
If you’re feeling peckish, visit the Straw Hat Cafe located out doors on the patio and accessible from the main floor. They’ve got everything from snacks to full meals and if you order a latte, be prepared to see one of Ghibli's characters adorning the foam! Meals are reasonably priced, but if it is raining, it will be crowded. They have both indoor and outdoor seating available, but be prepared for a wait.
The museum wouldn’t be complete without one of Miyazaki’s most famous animations the Cat Bus from My Neighbor Totoro. On the second floor, they’ve created a nearly life sized Cat Bus for children to enjoy. I couldn’t help but get a little teary eyed when I realized it was only for elementary school students. If you’ve got kids that are fans, certainly bring them along for this experience. And maybe they might need some assistance while at the cat bus….
Admittedly although I found the museum to be enchanting, I spent a good deal of time (and a good deal of money) at Mamma Aiuto! the official gift shop of the museum located on the top floor and named for the sky pirates in Pocco Rosso). Here you can find almost anything your heart desires. Spoils of my journey include a Totoro watch, two Totoro mugs, a stuffed Totoro, a Cat Bus key chain, two Studio Ghibli cds, several pins featuring Ghibli characters and lots of post cards to send home (clearly a My Neighbor, Totoro fan here, but you can find items from nearly every Studio Ghibli film). They’ve also got stationary, apparel, jewelry, figurines, dish ware….the list could go on forever! Many of these items are exclusive to the museum, so if you find something you like, make sure you purchase it!
The museum is accessible with elevators, but if you’re able take the spiral staircase to the rooftop. The rooftop features the robot solider from Laputa: Castle in the Sky and take the opportunity to snap your photo with him. It also has a very tranquil bamboo garden, if you’re looking for a break or just to process the Studio Ghibli awesome overload!
If you’re even a minimal fan of Miyazaki’s work, then a visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum is a great way to spend a 1/2 day in Tokyo. Even non-fans will appreciate the attention to detail, interactivity and insights into animation the museum has to offer.
Don’t worry if the weather isn’t great on the day visit. They have ample storage for bags, coats and umbrellas if necessary.
- Hours Of Operation: Museum：10：00 - 18：00, with specific entry times and dates of entry.
- The Museum is closed every Tuesday, except on February 11, 2014.
- The Museum is also closed at Year-end and for New Year's Holidays, and for periodic maintenance: Year-end and New Year Holidays: December 27, 2013 through January 2, 2014
- Address: 1-1-83 Simorenjaku, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181-0013
- Getting there: From Tokyo, take the JR Chuo Line to Mitaka station.. It will take approximately 20 minutes from Shinjuku station. If it’s a nice day, it’s a 15 minute walk along the Tamagawa Josui “Waterworks” to the museum.
Our suggestion: take the community bus. When exiting the station, head to the bus terminal. You’ll find a machine that dispenses tickets for the bus. Round trip cost: 300 Yen for adults, 150 Yen for children under 12. Studio Ghibli is the last stop and helpful screens in the bus in both English and Japanese will tell you when to exit (if the bus driver doesn’t!)
It is NOT accessible by car.