I have come to believe that the best storytellers are those who never lose their childlike sense of wonder at the world around them. One of the best animation studios in the world, Studio Ghibli, brings to life many wondrous stories in a creative reimagining of the world around us. It is for this reason that Studio Ghibli films are an integral and nostalgic part of many people’s childhood. The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan, is thus an amazing chance to view the source of inspiration for many of these films! Don’t write this museum off as a tourist trap; it is everything but it! This is a museum that believes that art should not just be viewed but also experienced. This is a museum that allows, even encourages visitors to get lost in their thoughts, daydreams, and fantasies. The Ghibli Museum is, in essence, an expression of love for animation, people, and life.
This philosophy of the museum’s executive director, Hayao Miyazaki, is evident through the design, layout, and organisation of the place. Rather than aggressively mass-selling tickets to hordes of Ghibli fans, tickets to the museum are limited to maintain an intimate atmosphere inside the museum. It gives visitors a chance to peruse the collection at length, a chance to ponder and get lost in their thoughts. The entrance fees are also relatively affordable, given the popularity of the place. Tickets to the museum are available 1-3 months in advance, depending on your mode of purchase. They can be bought online on the ticketing page of their website or at Lawsons Combini located throughout Japan. Do note that entry to the museum is strictly by advance reservation only, and tickets cannot be bought on-site. It took me two tries to get tickets, and I highly advise visitors to plan in advance to avoid disappointment.
Do also note that photography and videography are not allowed inside the museum premises, in line with the director’s vision of wanting visitors to immerse themselves in the museum fully. It is allowed, however, in the rooftop garden and outside the museum building. There is a really cool statue of a Laputa robot on the rooftop. If you drop by the Straw Hat cafe in the museum, you can also take pictures of the pretty themed food.
After you’ve secured tickets, access to the museum is from Mitaka station. From Mitaka station, you can either walk or catch the Ghibli bus to the museum. You’ll receive your beautiful ticket upon entry, made with a strip of film that you can view by holding it up in the light. It makes for a great bookmark souvenir after your visit! Do keep this ticket safe because it entitles you to an exclusive Studio Ghibli short film screening in the museum’s Saturn Theatre. Then, leave your inhibitions behind and step into the Studio Ghibli world of steampunk surrealism and mystical symbolism.
You can expect to learn more about the process of filmmaking and animation. The Central Hall is the main starting point for most visitors and features a maze of spiral staircases and secret entrances to different floors. You’ll feel like a kid again climbing up and down to explore the building. A highlight would be The Cat Bus from the film My Neighbour Totoro. Children 12 and under even get the exclusive privilege of boarding the bus! Then, step into a series of rooms that defy the usual layout of a museum. Rather than neatly arranging each artifact in its place for viewing, these rooms depict the filmmaker’s workshop, frozen in time. It is an intimate moment that the filmmaker shares with us, as we make our way through his sketches, toys, and books strewn all over the room.
There are also some exhibitions dedicated to explaining the animation process. Be prepared to be awed at the level of detail in every scene of each film. The only downside is that most of the exhibit explanations are in Japanese only. But as the philosophy of the museum is to free your mind and let your imagination take over, this presents no large obstacle to enjoying the museum.
Outside the museum’s main building is the Straw Hat Cafe. Although there seems to be a perpetual queue to get into the cafe, it is worth the wait. The food here is organic, homely, and tasty. I sipped organic milk and honey from a Ghibli themed mug. It was creamy, warm, frothy, and sweet- comfort in a mug. I also tried the most delicious cream pasta with chicken and mushrooms. Sadly, their famous strawberry shortcake was sold out when I visited, but the desserts I tried- chocolate sponge cake with nut crumble and cheese pie with peach slices, were also a perfect sweet ending to my meal.
After a good meal, it’s time for souvenir shopping! Get your hands on adorable Ghibli merchandise, some of which are exclusive to the museum. And after all that, when you leave the Ghibli Museum at the end of the day, it is in the hope that you have been inspired by the Studio Ghibli vision and philosophy, and enriched with a newfound love for animation, film, and art.
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