A visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo
This is not perhaps strictly food related…but I’ll make it as food-oriented as possible! Back in early February, my sister Mayumi and I went to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, a suburb of Tokyo. Here’s a brief report, with practical details as to how to get there and so on. I know that many Just Hungry readers are Ghibli fans, so I hope you find it useful.
The Studio Ghibli Museum, officially called the Forest of Mitaka Ghibli Art Museum (三鷹の森ジブリ美術館) is a small yet perfectly formed jewel of a museum. It’s located in a park that’s about a 15-20 minute walk, or 5 minute bus ride, from the Mitaka station. Mitaka is a suburb of Tokyo.
I can’t show you any photos of the inside of the museum, since it has a strict no-photos allowed policy. Their reasoning for this is explained on their web site:
Photography and video recording are not allowed inside the Museum.
-The Ghibli Museum is a portal to a storybook world. As the main character in a story, we ask that you experience the Museum space with your own eyes and senses, instead of through a camera’s viewfinder. We ask that you make what you experienced in the Museum the special memory that you take home with you.
Fair enough. Still, there are areas within the museum that seem to be crying out for a photo op, such as the fabulous, furry Cat Bus (from Totoro), over which little kids (age limit: 12) scramble in pure glee. Oh well. But it is wise to abide by their rules - there are smiling, friendly yet firm museum attendants stationed all over the place, watching out for rogue cameras.
Fortunately the outside, the rooftop garden and the cafe are not off-limits to cameras. The most prominent photo-op is on the rooftop garden, the giant metal sculpture of one of the Laputa robots from the movie Castle In The Sky:
Another great photo op is around the back of the museum - not at the main entrance. If you can’t find it, just ask one of the attendants. It’s a ticket booth that is manned (if that’s the right word…creatured?) by a giant Totoro:
Note the small round window below, from which soot sprites peer (there are little round windows like this all over the place - keep an eye out for them):
Straw Hat (Mugiwara Boushi), the Ghibli Museum cafe
There are two places to eat at the museum. One is a small hot dog and snack stand, with some tables to sit outside. The other is a very pretty cafe called the Straw Hat. We were not allowed to take photos of the interior of the cafe, but were allowed to take photos of the food. So…here are some photos! First the façade…
The entrance, just before the cafe opens (at 11:30 this day):
This character holding up the Daily Specials chalkboard looks on first glance like the pig from Porco Rosso, but it may actually be Hayao Miyazaki’s alter ego:
A small yet definite highlight: the cat (Jiji?) -shaped faucet handles on the sink just outside the cafe! Incidentally, the sink itself is of a style that is instantly familiar to Japanese people. It’s the same kind of sink that is installed at every elementary school, for the kids to wash up in. Nostalgia heightened with color and..cats!
The inside (which I can’t show you pictures of) has a sort of Scandinavian-American Country-Anne of Green Gables feel to it. The food is appropriately pretty and cute. I guess it is a bit overpriced…but it is a museum cafe after all.
A peek at the very cute menu. All in Japanese…so ask the smiling waitstaff for assistance. Basically the menu consists of many hot and cold drinks, desserts (there is a display case full of cakes), and a few savory dishes.
Here’s what I had - a sky blue cream soda, called “Field Soda Cream ” on the menu (the straw is made out of real straw)…
…and a katsu sando (pork cutlet sandwich), complete with a Totoro flag. By the way they sell these flags in sets of 3 for an astonishing 550 yen, so if you want one as a souvenir, grab the one from your lunch.
Here’s what my sister had - a baked vegetable open-faced sandwich with delicous burdock (gobo) fries. And a Ponyo flag! She was cold so she had coffee with her meal.
There is also a hot dog and snack stand outside the cafe. The detail I loved here is the little wooden steps underneath the sign posting the list of items available. Kids can stand on this and take a look at the list up close:
The cafe gets full quickly, so if you are determined to go I would recommend lining up outside early, around 11am if possible, have your early lunch and then see the rest of the museum later. When we left at a little past 12, it was already manseki (all seats taken)!
I have a lot more photos in my Ghibli Museum flickr set.
Should I go?
Is the Ghibli Museum worth a visit? If you are a Ghibli fan, absolutely! Fans various forms of nostalgic, retro, country, historically-inspired design (think of labels such as homespun American country, steampunk, Taisho period art deco, Art Nouveau, and Showa Retro - not to mention pre-Mussolini era Italian design!) will find this place fascinating. Sounds like a mess I know, but it does all work together. If you have children (I would say over the age of 5 or 6), I think this museum is a must too. I didn’t see a single child there whose eyes were not sparkling with delight. Unlike many such child-oriented places (and there are so many of these in the Tokyo area), they don’t push Entertainment in your face here, but let it unfold gently before your eyes. I can’t wait to go back.
If I don’t understand Japanese, will I still enjoy the museum?
I think you will, especially if you have some knowledge of the Ghibli movies. I didn’t actually spend that much time reading the descriptions and so on. Just let the delightful visuals wash over you! I swear, even the bathrooms are fun!
On this particular day I saw a lot of Korean visitors, and a sprinkle of non-Asian tourists, all with slightly dazed smiles on their faces. Another time I went there was a big Chinese tour group, who also looked really happy.
How to buy tickets for the Ghibli Museum
Tickets to the Ghibli Museum are time and date specified. For instance, you would buy a ticket for 10 AM on March 10, and you have to line up at the entrance about half an hour before then.
In Japan, tickets to the Ghibli Museum can only be purchased in advance at Lawsons convenience (konbini) stores, from the Loppi ticket vending machines. Lawsons stores are everywhere in the Tokyo area and elsewhere in the country. If you don’t speak Japanese, ask your hotel or a Japanese-speaking friend how to get tickets, or just go to a Lawsons and see if someone can help you out. I would bring a paper with “GHIBLI MUSEUM TICKETS” written on it, with the number of tickets you want plus your desired time and date, and show it to one of the helpful shop assistants. There are instructions in English on the Lawsons web site. By the way, the correct pronounciation for Ghibli is “JI-bu-ri”, not “GI-bu-ri” with a hard G.
ETA: Tickets go on sale about 2 months in advance at Lawsons.
If you are nervous about trying to buy a ticket in Japan though, it is possible to buy one in advance before you leave in certain countries. (Don’t believe erroneous reports on some trip-review sites that say you must buy tickets outside of Japan! How do these people think that people living in Japan buy tickets, sheesh.) Follow the links on this page on the museum’s web site for instructions. Tickets cost 1000 yen each for adults, and less for children.
When to go, when not to go
The museum is open from 10AM to 6PM, and is closed on Tuesdays.
Because of the time-staggered entry system, you don’t feel that the museum is overcrowded (well, at least compared to many other Tokyo venues), except perhaps for the gift shop, which is packed to the rafters! Nevertheless the museum is very popular with Japanese people, so you may want to aim for a weekday when school is in session if possible. So, avoid the school holiday periods, Golden Week (the first week of May - a major holiday week in Japan, and an awful time to travel if you hate crowds), and so on. In any case you should try to buy your tickets at least a few days in advance to avoid disappointment.
I would recommend getting a 10AM ticket if possible. On the day of your visit, get to the entrance by 9:30AM and line up. Your Lawsons ticket (or voucher) will be exchanged for a real one, plus a little film strip which is your entrance ticket for the in-museum short movie. (I was hoping to catch Mei and the Kittenbus, but they were playing another one…)
How to get there
If you’ve ever been to Tokyo you know that it’s foolish to contemplate renting a car there. But even if you do, don’t take it to the Ghibli Museum, because they have no parking, and the language on their web site actively discourages driving there. (Hayao Miyazaki is a noted environmentalist in Japan.) To get to the museum, go to the Mitaka station on the JR East line (about 20-30 minutes from Shinjuku station, depending on whether you get an Express or Local train), exit from the South or Minami entrance (南口), and follow the signs for the Ghibli Museum. The Ghibli bus, operated by the private Odakyu company, departs from the no. 9 bus stop. Tickets are 200 yen one way, 300 yen round trip for adults as of this writing, and can be purchased at the vending machine right at the stop. You can also walk to the museum following the signs. (We didn’t because it was freezing cold the day we went!) The bus itself is decked out in Ghibli-livery on the outside, though quite plain and ordinary on the inside.
One suggestion would be to take the buy to the museum, then leisurely stroll back to the station afterwards. Mitaka itself is an old suburb of Tokyo, with some interesting old shops and so on to look at.
Where to eat
The cafe and hot dog/snack stand are very cute, although if you are looking for traditional Japanese food you’ll be disappointed. The menu is designed to appeal to children and young ladies really, with sandwiches, desserts and many sweet drinks. You could bring along a bento or picnic with you and have it after you leave the museum, in the park (Inogashira park) in which the museum is situated. The Mitaka station area also has tons of eateries.
What to buy
Frankly you will probably find more Ghibli character goods at Kiddyland in Harajuku. But the gift shop, Mamma Aiuto! (which comes from Porco Rosso - thanks to everyone who emailed me the info or commented!) is very interesting nevertheless, with items ranging from small handkerchiefs for 500 yen each to 80,000 yen limited edition hand-painted models of Porco Rosso’s plane for sale. You’ll find some museum-only items too. The little Ghibli character badges and pins are hard to resist, as are the Ghibli-design dinnerware. The bookstore next to the gift shop is stocked with many children’s books in Japanese, plus postcards and so on. Grab the museum’s official catalog (1,000 yen when I visited).