Friday, January 31st, 2014

It was not really ideal today. We are only here in Tokyo for two days so it left not a lot of choice when it came to setting up a visit to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. First, let me explain what it is: This is a museum devoted to the works of Studio Ghibli - A Japanese animation company whose founder Hayao Miyazaki is much revered in Japan. The films have been warmly received outside of Japan as well with John Lassester, founder of Pixar, known to be a huge fan and promoter of Ghibli’s work which includes Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, Porco Rosso, Ponyo, and Spirited Away (if you have not seen any or, indeed, all of these it really is worth checking out with English-language versions readily available - they are all magnificent works of art, direction and storytelling). The museum itself was built for the people of Japan to visit and enjoy the output of Studio Ghibli and is very much aimed at children and the child inside every adult. We paid a visit the last time we were here but just had to go again - It is quite impressive and a lot of fun. It is, however, difficult to get into with tickets required well in advance and it is because of this I figured that booking a Friday might be easier (avoiding the large groups on weekends) but this did mean visiting the day after we arrived despite the understandable jet-lag we would both be suffering.

I suppose it was not THAT bad. I knew we really wanted to visit the museum very close to when it opened at 10. We WERE both tired in the morning but managed to get up and make our way to breakfast in the hotel. We generally like to get out of the hotel to eat as hotel food, while good, is not really what you might call “local” but today we thought we would start the trip off right with an easy trip to the third floor for the breakfast buffet in the “Chef’s Live Kitchen” restaurant despite not actually knowing how much it would cost…which did make us pause slightly at the door: 3,500 yen. Ouch. Oh well, we are on holiday (and mother is paying for the meals) so in we went.

The choices on offer were very impressive: Along with the standard western breakfast offerings (sausage, bacon, hash browns, fresh fruit, eggs, bread/toast, croissant, sweet buns, orange juice, fresh ground coffee, etc) there was also more local dishes including a good assortment of fish (including a rather daunting pile of what looked like small white noodles until you looked closer and saw they all had little eyes…), eggs cooked to order, and soup (including, of course, miso). The restaurant itself is quite nice with a great view - We seated ourselves near the window which looked out through a small assortment of evergreens into the harbour with the Rainbow Bridge in the near distance. It was quite pleasant enjoying the food and reading the English-language newspaper we found hanging in a bag on the door handle this morning though it was somewhat skimpy on actual news focusing instead on local civic matters.

Looking Out Window Towards Rainbow Bridge

We chatted away for a few minutes over our meal then mother signed the bill to the room only to be questioned as we left whether she was actually staying in the room (having a name of “Watkinson” while I have a name of “Rice” no doubt confused them).

Packing our rucksacks for the day we walked to the train station.

Underpass Near Hotel

I have been a bit nervous about the travel arrangements so visited the travel office in the station to pick up our tickets for Tokyo to Kyoto (on Sunday) then for our onward trip from Kyoto to Nagano (a week from today). It made me feel a bit more at ease knowing this has been arranged and that we have assigned seats on a particular Shinkansen. The lady at the travel agency was very friendly and helpful speaking English well enough so that it was not a problem. It is not the train to Nagano I wanted (which was a direct train with no transfer - there is only one of those a day) but it is later in the day and will probably be more relaxed.

We caught the busy train to Shinjuku station a bit to the west of us where we were still getting a hang of Tokyo transport so started down the stairs only to realise the train we wanted was actually on the platform immediately adjacent to where we had arrived! The train to Mitaka on the JR Chou Line is very pleasant as it quickly leaves behind the large hotels of Shinjuku and takes you through suburban Tokyo with it’s narrow alleyways (we cannot figure out how people would have a car if they wanted one - the streets between the houses seem so narrow…) and wood houses festooned with television aerials and electrical wires. Each station on the line is like a small village with tall buildings, restaurants and shopping centres but between stations the houses return.

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It is funny, we have only been here the once before and to Mitaka station itself only once before so it was surprising at how familiar the station seemed to me.

Food at Mitaka Station

Elevated Walkway

Exiting to the left via the south exit we followed a pathway elevated quite a ways above the street past a few grocery stores (stopping to see what was on offer in the way of fresh fruit) then down some steps to the pavement along the side of a small stream.

Mitaka Tourist Information

Being winter the trees lining the banks were understandably bare but it is a nice area - The road immediately alongside the stream is fairly quiet and the streets we passed by are all residential.

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Occasionally there is a special post that could easily be missed but has a cute character on it pointing the way to the museum (noting that there is an appropriately decorated bus that you can take that shuttles you from the station to the museum as it is about a 25 minute walk - we saw it go by later in the day).

Ghibli Museum Signpost

We left the stream and joined the main road on which the museum is located, beside a large park.

Mitaka City Signpost

Main Entrance Sign

At the museum we greeted Totoro near the entrance off of the road. “Totoro” is a large round creature of unknown species from the movie “My Neighbour Totoro” (unsurprisingly) which is one of the first Ghibli movies and probably the most loved. Totoro stands at attention inside ticket booth watching as people walk past him into the museum. Pictures obligatory, obviously.

Picture with Totoro

We made our way around the very organic-looking building with it’s pastel orange colour and quite often covered with plants that grow everywhere around it (the museum is in a park after all).

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We presented our tickets at the entrance and were given a map along with a ticket to the cinema inside. Before entering we stopped and admired the ceiling of the entrance hall and the Ghibli movie-inspired stained glass in the windows. It is sunny (but cool) today so they were lit up brilliantly. Down the ramp we arrived in the main atrium of the museum that is three stories high with various ways of getting up and down - Stairs, an elevator and a tight metal spiral staircase - The idea here is to have fun and wonder at what you see around you.

It was not very busy to begin with so we started with a room that shows how animation actually works with examples from the films. We particularly liked the exhibit of a large round turntable on which there were a series of figures placed around the perimeter that formed a moving image when turning with a flashing light shining on them (you are shown every few minutes what it actually looks like when the light stops flashing and the turntable is stopped before you). It is just so effective a demonstration of how animation works and it is done so well - A girl (from Totoro, again) jumping rope fascinated us.

My favourite set of rooms here is made up to look like the actual desks that the animators use to create the films - Their studio. The first room you enter is Miyazaki-san’s office with walls on either side of you covered with small slips of paper having scenes from his various films (obviously many from storyboards for the films). His desk is surrounded by bookcases containing books of art, architecture, fashion, history, geography, etc - obviously intending to show his inspiration for what he does. On top of all of the surfaces, hanging from walls, and from the ceiling are all manner of things including models, stuffed animals, globes, art pieces…You can hardly see his desk. Moving into the second room we see the other animator’s desks with one showing how colouring is done and the other showing a loop of film with a running horse projected onto the wall. Here it is also cluttered with more books and ephemera. Another room has books that contain the storyboards for many of Ghibli’s films - well thumbed and appreciated. It is just amazing and there is just so much to see here that we returned in the afternoon for another visit before leaving.

There is a movie shown every thirty minutes and the one this time was about a small puppy that escapes from a house when his young owner goes to school in the morning. The story revolves around them trying to find each other. There were no subtitles and it was in Japanese but it was easy to follow and wonderfully done. Beautiful. The cinema itself is fairly small with shades that drop in the windows when the lights go out and the film being projected from an ancient projector that we had a look at as we left.

There are exhibits that change all the time. This time the temporary exhibit was about lenses and movie making with a lot of hands-on pieces that the children were enjoying (yes we enjoyed it too). At the end you can put your cinema ticket into a projector to see what movie the piece of film embedded into it is from. Mother’s was not exciting as it looks like a big blue body of some sort but mine is more obviously some characters…though I don’t know what movie they are from.

The small store on the third floor was very busy the few times we visited with a large queue for the tills. It sells many different things most of which are artistic: Pictures, videos, figurines, shirts, pottery, jewelry, cards, jigsaw puzzles, etc. Of course a lot of the things here are one of a kind and often things are not available anywhere else. It is all very interesting and we spent a lot of time just browsing figuring out what things were and saying “neat” a lot.

In the museum there is a corridor that is devoted to art from a recent Ghilbli movie. This time it had a number of pictures from a movie that is about a Chinese princess. The pieces are, of course, beautiful and exquisitely detailed.

One thing we had not done the last time we visited was to go onto the roof where a giant 16 foot tall malevolent robot from the movie “Laputa” sits in the middle of a garden. You can have your picture taken with him and we had one of the museum staff take our picture.

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As you walk around the robot on a narrow path through some bamboo you end up in a small nook that has a stone with some odd writing on it…”neat” again.

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View of Main Entrance from the Roof

To get up to the robot you have to first go to the “Cat Bus” room which is a room with a giant “Cat Bus” (from Totoro again - a cat that people can sit in like a bus as it romps across the countryside) that is a play area for children. There were a large number of stuffed “soot balls” (from “Howl’s Moving Castle”) that the children were throwing in and out of the cat bus. Oh, no adults allowed here. A door leads to a balcony outside on which there are two metal benches that only a few people noticed had a handle on them that made a musical noise when cranked - We noticed and played for a few minutes with this and also a water fountain that looks like a pointed German World War 1 helmet (round with a point at the top).

The rooftop is accessed via a tight metal staircase…


Staircase to the Roof

We did not really buy anything in the museum though I did pick up a rather heavy book that talks about the museum and the philosophy behind it along with interviews of key people. I could not resist it. It did also come with a wide poster picture of the museum as well.

There is a small restaurant outside near the back but it had a massive queue of people in a tent outside who were waiting to be seated. We opted instead to have some ice cream and drinks from a small stall outside. It was not really all that warm today but we sat and enjoyed our refreshments at a metal table in the sun near to the exit but with a good view down into a courtyard containing a lot of flowers and plants as well as a pump fountain that was regularly being pumped onto the cobbles.

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Ok, Confusing but Understood

Lower Courtyard

The Pump

Throughout the museum there are artistic touches that make it somewhere you can visit over and over again - The taps where you could wash your hands outside before eating have small cat figures perched on top of them…

Cat Taps...

…the drain covers have figures on them…

Drain Cover

Pretty much all of the windows have stained glass scenes from various movies - A statue here, a painting there…

Soot Balls...They seem to be trapped!

All done with a great deal of care and love.

An Engraved Brick...

Mid-afternoon we left the museum as it was getting busier and we had seen everything we wanted to see.

Leaving the Museum...

One last look...

The park around the museum (Inokashira Park) appears to be in a state of change with a lot of construction going on. We made our way past the construction and headed to the nearby train station (not Mitaka this time, Kichijo-ji, which is about the same distance away from the museum). We avoided walking along the road so we could enjoy the beauty of the park…of course it was much nicer the last time when we were here in the summer. We came upon a small lake and I picked up a cold coke from a machine as we walked to a temple sitting on a small island here. It was quite busy and a lot of incense was causing smoke everywhere. The temple was painted in bright red and we really could not see too much inside so we sat down on a stone bench off to the side and looked out onto the lake for a few minutes before mother suggested we move on…it was quite cool.

As we approached the train station and left the park the buildings came up around us - Restaurants and shops. We walked along a narrow road crowded with signs and people where I noticed several disappear down a small opening. Following them down a small alley we were in a massive indoor shopping centre devoted entirely to food - Small stalls selling everything from takoyaki (octopus balls with sauce), to tempura, noodles, cookies, cakes, salads, and crackers.

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I was amazed - I think one thing you will find in this journal is that food is a bit of a passion for me so I was in heaven here - Each stall had a new delight and the place was jumping.

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I was trying to surreptitiously take pictures as we made our way from one building into another with food as far as the eye could see as we made our way towards the train station which was attached to the mall.

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Of course, we could not resist and as it was getting closer to dinner, we picked up a few things: Takoyaki from a stall very close to where we first entered…


…and an assortment of tempura (the stall selling this had every manner of tempura you could think of that you could buy a piece at a time of - I just picked a few things at random including a shredded vegetable mat of tempura).


The takoyaki was fresh so before we got on the train I insisted we stop to try it before it got all soggy on the 45 minute trip back to the hotel.

Busy Waiting for Train

Walk to Hotel from Train Station

Delicious. The rest of the meal had to wait until we got back to the hotel and it was not as good as the tempura was soggy and not very flavourful.

Well, it was a lot of walking and standing our feet today. Watching television a bit before bed. I know we should probably try to stay up as late as possible in order to adapt to the local timezone but it is 6 and it has been a very long day…

View from Hotel Room Window

View from Hotel Room Window

To stay awake we decided to go for a bit of a walk. We figured that tomorrow we would have a tour of the harbour and we had noticed on the map that just a short walk away was where you caught the tour ferries. So, heading out of the restaurant we walked on a short bridge over a small river leading away from the harbour then we were at the end of the ferry car park. Walking into the ferry terminal we picked up some brochures and tried to figure out where they went and how much they would cost. There is a small cafe there and the person we talked to was quite helpful as she showed us the machines where the tickets were to be purchased.

One more full day in Tokyo. It seems like we only just arrived. Hang on, we have only just arrived!

>> Next: Day 4

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