The Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan is quite literally a dream come true, for anyone who loves the Studio Ghibli movies (like Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, and many others). While I highly advise seeing EVERYTHING inside the museum, if you’re on a tight schedule and don’t have a couple hours to kill, I wanted to make a short list of things you really ought to do:
1. Buy some Souvenirs at the Ghibli Museum Gift Shop
Of course the gift shop is going to be on this list. The Studio Ghibli Museum is full of everything Ghibli movie related, from keychains of your favorite characters, to mini-plush night busses, to freakishly expensive iron replicas of the Giant Soldiers from Laputa, to clothing. At any one time, the museum is crowded with people trying to stock up on their favorites.
Watch out, though. Everything is pretty expensive. I bought a Howls Moving Castle themed playing card deck… for 710yen (then around 10$). Nothing else was in my price range…
2. Watch an Original Film in the Saturn Mini-Theater
This theater is a must-see not only because of the fact that it screens original ten minute movies written by the Studio Ghibli team, but also because of its unique and child-friendly architecture. The walls of the mini Saturn Theater are brightly painted; on the ceiling is a vivid painting of the moon. Despite the fact it is a theater, it has ample natural lighting from several oval windows on the left of the theater – when the movie starts, the shutters will close.
The movies themselves are cute. They change monthly; I’ve seen three of them and loved it each time.
3. Enjoy the Illustrator’s Room
I used to be an artist (I like to say that), so of course I love art. I recommend the illustrators room because that’s where the magic happens. You can see some of the earlier sketches of most characters (like Nausicaa with a different hair style or Princess Mononoke with braids) and you can watch them evolve by looking at any of the sheets of paper, plastered to the walls.
In the next room, you can see how the storyboards are put together, the coloring procedure, and the animating process. It’s pretty neat. They also have a couple books of original storyboards to leaf through.
4. Play on the Cat Bus
It’s a cat bus. Of course it’s going to be on the list. This family favorite from My Neighbor Totoro is always covered with children.
Unfortunately, it’s just for children. No one over the age of 11 is allowed on. Boo hoo. Two years ago, when I went to the Studio Ghibli Museum for the first time, they had an adult cat bus on the revolving exhibit, but that’s no there anymore…
5. Take a Picture with the Iron Robot Solider
On the roof of the Studio Ghibli Museum is a life-sized replica of one of the Robot Soldiers from Laputa in Castle in the Sky. It’s a tourist favorite because the roof of the museum is one of the few places you’re allowed to take pictures.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask someone to take your picture (with your sweetheart, friends, family, or even alone) because this is a pretty iconic shot from the Ghibli museum!
6. Learn a bit in the History of Animation Room
Located on the first floor, the animation room is one of the first things you see when you walk inside the museum. It is fun to watch the old style animations (ranging from light tricks to actual projections) of several of the Hayao Miyazaki films, mostly My Neighbor Totoro. Playing aside, this is one of the most informative (but crowded) exhibits in the Ghibli museum.
7. Take a break in any Bathroom
As awkward as this sounds, I recommend going to the bathroom. Each bathroom is warm and friendly – with different colored (and flavored) natural soaps. They are located on every floor.
8. Grab a snack at the Straw Hat Restaurant
While there is always a long line for the somewhat expensive Straw Hat Restaurant, it is one of the favorites in the museum. Well, technically it’s outside the museum (which means, yup, you guessed it, you can take pictures!). All of the food was hand-picked by Miyazaki – coming from local ingredients and recipes. The image of the restaurant is supposed to be “nostalgic, home-cooked food). The food is expensive, but delicious.
9. Pump some water at the red Well Pump.
Located outside the basement of the Ghibli Museum, the red pump gives children (and curious adults) a taste of what life in My Neighbor Totoro was like, making them pump their own water. The pump is hard to move; some kids aren’t able to do it.
It is fun and rewarding, but unfortunately your hands end up smelling like iron afterwards; a smell that isn’t easy to get rid of.
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