I’ve been completely in love with Studio Ghibli ever since I first saw Spirited Away at 11 years old.
Since then I have feverishly consumed nearly every animation to come out of the Studio, and still hold as strong a love for everything Ghibli more than 10 years later.
I was therefore delighted to learn a couple of years ago that a Ghibli Museum had been opened in Japan, so when planning my trip I knew this was an opportunity I simply couldn’t afford to miss!
The Ghibli Museum is based in Mitaka; a small, scenic town just outside of Tokyo. It two hours to get there in total, via the underground, the overground JR Chuo Line, and then a short but memorable journey on the museum’s very own Ghibli shuttle bus, which collects visitors straight from Mitaka station!
I’d be warned previously online about the queues to get in, and when we did arrive the queues were indeed huge.
It was a good 20 minute wait in the stifling summer humidity before I was finally granted entry, but on the bright side this gave me apt time to absorb and get some photos of the museum’s amazing exterior.
I can say with confidence that the Ghibli Museum is not going to be like any museum you have ever visited.
The building itself is something straight out of the Ghibli imagination; brightly coloured, covered with ivy, and uniquely playful and eccentric in its construction.
If you craned your neck you could also spot a life-sized replica of the robot from Laputa: Castle in the Sky, gazing impassively down from the museum’s rooftop garden.
The windows were fitted with a breathtaking and colourful assortment of stained glass designs featuring many of the studio’s most beloved characters – Kiki, Mei and Totoro to name but a few!
It is a simply gorgeous piece of architecture, that has to be seen to be believed!
The first really neat thing to happen was when I exchanged my online-reservation for my official entry-ticket, which takes the form of a genuine piece of animation cell, how cool is that?!
I will emphasize here that booking well in advance is absolutely mandatory for visiting the Ghibli Museum – you will not get in without a prior booking!
Information on booking tickets outside of Japan and where to get them can be found on their website here, so do check it out if interested!
After my tickets were sorted it was time to explore, and I wasted no time investigating the buildings assorted rooms and warren-like corridors.
On the ground floor I discovered a fascinating exhibit on the history of animation, featuring working examples of the various mediums used for making animations, from stop motion to 3-D.
I had previously assumed that the historical/technical side of the museum would be the most boring for me, but I actually found this room the most captivating, and I was utterly engrossed! The Ghibli Museum is a highly immersive, hands on experience, and I was completely glued to certain displays in this room!
In addition to this not-to-be-missed animation-exhibit, the first floor also boasts its own small cinema. This tiny cinema screens an original Ghibli short several times a day, which changes every few months.
I was utterly delighted by the fact that the current movie was ‘Mei and the Cat-Bus‘, a short spin-off of My Neighbor Totoro – my all time favourite Ghibli movie, and an utter classic! It felt incredibly nostalgic to be ‘reunited’ with these beloved characters in a new story, decades after the originals release, and it was actually all a little moving.
For the curious, there was also a corridor on the upper floor dedicated to the various animated-shorts produced for the museum over the last few years, which was really interesting, but also felt a bit of a taunt as you could no longer watch them!
Moving upstairs the focus shifts from animation in general to the studios own creation process; you will enter one room beautifully wallpapered with original character designs and sketches (another sight that actually rather touched me), one displaying original storyboards and animation cells, and another reconstructing Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki‘s office and workspace.
In addition to this there was an impressive section dedicated to life-sized models of various pieces of transport from Ghibli lore; a nod to Miyazaki’s love of vehicular technology, a common theme in many of his films.
I can’t remember all of it, but I do remember there being an astonishingly detailed life-sized model of some kind of wooden plane, and an adult-sized cat bus you could sit it – a pleasantly squishy experience!
In addition to the numerous exhibits there are lots of lovely and creative easter eggs hidden around the museum for older fans, as well as some wonderfully imaginative features aimed at its youngest visitors!
For example, when you enter the animation exhibit, you will come across a little wooden house with wooden shutters, which if you peek though in turn your will eventually spy a charming – if odd – little doll house scene of the Ghibli team enjoying an exuberant feast – in the form of pigs. For some reason.
On the upper floor you will also find a child-sized Cat-Bus, a highly popular attraction, which was being enthusiastically attacked by a bunch of excitable Japanese school-children as I passed.
But one feature that really caught my eye were some truly teeny child-sized doors leading through to the toilets; one I could just manage to squeeze through if I crouched, and another which only big enough for a 3-year-old.
Having exhausted the interior of the museum I proceeded to the rooftop garden, which if you pass through the ‘Cat-bus Play Area’ is accessible via a spiral staircase, which is encased inside a beautiful ivy-covered tower, providing a bird’s-eye view of the museum grounds.
The garden itself is a small and surprisingly peaceful, the highlight unmistakably being the impressive replica of the robot from Laputa, towering benevolently above you amongst the gardens lush (and painstakingly tended) greenery.
Having seen everything there was to see, and having made an obligatory stop at the museums expansive gift shop, I finished my visit by popping in to the museum cafe for a hotdog and a cup of fries, and before making my slightly reluctant departure.
It doesn’t take long to look round the Ghibli Museum, but it is a captivating place with a truly unique feel, and definitely an attraction I hope to return to one day!
Before making the journey back to Tokyo, I decided to stop at a nearby cafe that had caught my eye as I arrived at the museum; The Kotori Cafe.
As people reading this blog will soon come to realise, I love birds! Birds utterly captivate me, and for me any opportunity to get close to them is one not to be missed!
I therefore could not resist popping in to the Kotori – ‘Little Birds’ – cafe, drawn as I was by the flock of colourful budgies and cokatiels chirping from their rope swing in the window.
Sat just across the road from the Ghibli Museum, The Kotori Cafe was a delightfully bright and friendly little cafe – small, but very cosy.
It seemed the perfect place to escape from the scorching heat with some delicious Iced Chocolate – a wonderful idea which I am clueless as to why we haven’t adopted in the west! – and hopefully get close to some beautiful birds at the same time!
It didn’t take long for me to get to meet one of the birds, which if I remember correctly cost me about £2 for five minutes – a short window of time, but one that is sensible to avoid tiring or stressing out the birds.
Before I was allowed to come in to contact with the birds I had to remove my jewelry and earings (the reason for which becoming very clear shortly after), and was then shown to a small, screened off corner in an adjacent room.
Having disinfected my hands and provided a brief explanation on how best to hold the birds, I was incredibly excited to hold a budgie for the first time!
The little guy started off on my wrist, before dragging himself up my shirt with alarming speed via beak and claws to rest on to my shoulder, before scrambling up my hair in a similar fashion (a very weird sensation indeed) and perching triumphantly on my head.
I was informed by the staff member that he likes hair, but he apparently liked ears too because he kept pecking mine! Ouch!
The staff member kept removing him and scolding him, telling him ‘dame des!’, but each time he was placed back on my palm, without fail the mischievous little critter would clamber up my shirt to resume pecking! I see now why they have a ‘no jewelry’ rule. Not that it seemed to make much difference in my case!
Apart from biting customer’s ears his other passion was apparently ‘shasshin’ (photos), as whenever I got out my phone to take a photo he would hop on to it, and photobomb my photos with his backside! But I did manage to grab a few non-bum shots though thankfully.
While I can’t say for certain that the feeling was mutual on the bird’s part, I was certainly very chuffed to have made a feathery friend that day! I absolutely loved this cafe, and if I return to Japan I will definitely have to pay it another visit!
So where will my trip take me next? Join me next time as I indulge in everything geek in Akihabara, and explore Japan’s own nerd-mall Nakano Broadway!
And if anyone else has had the luck to visit the Ghibli Museum, or have their own story of visiting a bird cafe in Japan, I’d love to hear in the comments!
Otherwise, see you next time!
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