As if my day at Tokyo Disneysea yesterday wasn’t magical enough, today I took a trip to what is probably… no DEFINITELY the best museum I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. The Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka. If that has you scratching your head then I’m sorry but we can’t be friends. Totoro? Surely you know Totoro? Yeah that’s him, the big grey thing with an umbrella. Right, good, we’re on the same page at least.
As far as I’m concerned, Studio Ghibli make some of the most beautiful pieces of art, let alone cinema, that you’ll ever see. Beautifully animated, wonderfully written, they’re the Pixar of Japan. And similar to Pixar, if you have a dry eye by the end of their movies then you’re not human.
Ghibli and its founder Hayao Miyazaki have such a huge following in Japan that they’ve opened a museum in Mitaka Tokyo where you have to book 3 MONTHS IN ADVANCE just to get a ticket! Fortunately for me, they also have a system for foreigners to get tickets via agencies in each region. They reserve 100 tickets a day for everywhere else in the world which can be bought relatively easily to people like me who want to visit (although your still best booking 3 months in advance!)
Now Miyazaki had one rule when he opened the museum- no cameras in the building. He wanted people to experience everything with their own eyes, not through a camera lens. So obviously I have very few photos to share! Fortunately though, this rule doesn’t extend to the outside area, which intentionally has a few of the best photo ops in the place.
For the most part, the rule worked. I’d seen nothing in advance of what to expect so everything was completely fresh for me. The one thing I WAS expecting though (and looking forward to) was to be greeted by Totoro himself at the “ticket counter”!
After I’d introduced myself I headed round the corner to the lengthy queue to get in (Japanese citizens need to arrive at a pre allocated time slot which are at 2 hour interview. Foreigners can go whenever they like! Unfortunately I arrived dead on one of those time slots!). Once I’d been welcomed and my ticket (piece of paper) checked, I received my ACTUAL ticket- a piece of film cell from one of the dozens of Ghibli classics. They’re completely random and apparently some get a relatively dull scene, fortunately mine is quite a nice shot. So with ticket in hand, I headed into the building.
The museum is spread over 3 floors and a roof terrace, with sections covering everything from animation in general (with an incredibly huge zoetrope style machine that used strobe lighting to make seemingly plain models of Ghibli characters come to life) to a recreation of part of the Ghibli studios including actual storyboard artwork and research material from the films. There’s also a cinema showing short films created especially for the museum that no one outside has or ever will see. The only disappointing thing with the whole place… YOU HAVE TO BE A CHILD TO GO INSIDE THE CATBUS! DISAPPOINTING!
Finally, one of the nicest areas is the rooftop balcony. Themed to Laputa: Castle in the Sky, there’s a life size recreation of one of the robots and a replica of the command cube. Plus you can get a great view of the entire complex. There’s also a really nice little cafe and a shop selling Ghibli goods (themed after the Mamma Aiuto gang on Porco Rossi). I grabbed a present for someone and, while they can have the present, I’m keeping the bag. All in I spent around 3 hours there, and every minute was well spent. But I had one more place I had to be, around an hours walk away.
Through some extensive googling in the planning stages if this trip, I’d found that there on March 4th there was a Daruma doll fair at the Jindaiji temple. Daruma dolls are hollow, round Japanese traditional dolls modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism (according to Wikipedia:p). People come each yeah to buy a new Daruma doll (and dispose of the old ones properly) and get one of the monks to write in the eyes a Sanskrit character to represent new beginnings.
There were around 150 stalls at this year’s festival, with around 50 selling Daruma dolls of all sizes (some almost as big as me!) and the rest selling some of the best smelling food I’ve ever had the pleasure of inhaling.
Once I’d got my doll and had my fill of the glorious smell, I headed to Shinjuku to check into my hotel for the night and grab dinner. At this point, I’ve been here about a week, and the one thing I’ve found to be the most stressful is getting food. First of all just trying to decide WHAT to eat, then whether I’m going to be able to order it, then am I going to like it? While it’s all part of the experience, I just had a weird craving that evening for simplicity. To go somewhere where there would be no language barrier and I could be certain I’d know what I was eating and if I’d like it… so I went to Hooters!
Before anyone passes comment, I went for the food! And it was good, just what I needed! Although it was weird seeing the Hooters girl’s hourly show where they all put on a coordinated dance to ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex, ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ by Steps and ‘YMCA’ by the Village People. I did not expect to hear them in Japan. At this point it was getting late so I thought I’d have a quick walk around Shinjuku to see the area at night. I called in on Japan’s cultural ambassador- Godzilla (not kidding, he was actually appointed a cultural ambassador last year! But anyway, more on him tomorrow) and I headed down to a famous bar district called Golden Gai. An odd but really interesting place, Golden Gai is a series of narrow alleys lined with tiny bars, each fitting in between 5-10 people. Every bar had a cover charge (between 300-1000 yen) and the drinks were then a set price (between 500-1000 yen). With it being a Friday night there was very little chance of me getting in anywhere unfortunately, but I may venture back at some point over the next couple of weeks.
So that was my day. Tomorrow I’m off to Roppongi to visit YouTube Space and be in the audience for a show called ‘Eat Your Sushi’ (side note- it has nothing to do with eating Sushi).