A visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo

Approaching the Ghibli Museum

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:

Laputa Robot and humans

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:

Totoro mans the ticket booth!

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):

Soot sprites window

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...

Façade of the cafe at the Ghibli Museum

The entrance, just before the cafe opens (at 11:30 this day):

Cafe entrance, Ghibli museum

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:

Daily Specials chalkboard, Ghibli Museum

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!

Cat-shaped faucet, Ghibli Museum

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.

Ghibli Museum cafe menu

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)...

Cream soda at the Ghibli Museum cafe

...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.

Katsu Sando at the Ghibli Museum cafe

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.

Baked Vegetable Open-faced sandwich at the Ghibli Museum cafe

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:

So the little kids can see too

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)!


More photos!

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.

The bus to the Ghibli Museum

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

Ice cream sign, Ghibli Museum

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).

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Ooh, I loved the Ghibli museum. Thanks for the nostalgia hit! Incidentally, 'Mamma, Aiuto!' means 'Help me, mum!' in Italian. It's the name of the pirate gang in Porco Rosso.

How beautiful! I absolutely can't wait until we can see the Ghibli Museum. My family will be buying up every single souvenir item in the shop and beyond because Ghibli items are so hard to find in the US or have a horrific import price tag.
I'll probably burst into tears when I finally get to see the Laputa robot. That is one of the most stand out moments in a Ghibli movie, when the robot was holding Sheeta out to Pazu.

Funny you said that... I felt tears welling in my eyes when I saw the picture of the Laputa robot. Few other characters stand out as much from the movies as this one. More human than most humans.

I adore this museum! And the Kich neighborhood in general. I like walking through the park to get to Kichijoji on the way home.

You can also buy advance museum tickets (in the US) through JTB USA. I did that each time I've gone and it seems that they have much more availability than Lawson in Japan.

"Mamma aiuto!" means "Mom, help!" in Italian. I have no idea why someone would give such a name to a souvenir shop, but maybe it's a quote from Porco Rosso? (which I haven't seen, but I heard it's set in Italy)

anyway, thank you for the report! It really made me want to go, next time I am in Tokyo :)

I could see why someone would name their gift shop "Help me Mama" in a store filled with things that are shiny and expensive. :P

Oohh great post of the museum ^^! I was lucky enough to visit it on my last trip to Tokyo and it was awesome!! (I heart Ghibli heh) but I was a bit disappointed we couldnt take photos on the inside because it was so fascinating but I guess its for the best. Much better experience in person than via photos imo.

Even the food is so kawaii ^^! I should had tried some!

Hey Maki!

Thank you so much for the lovely story and cute pictures! My family and I love everything Ghibli and own all the movies! My daughter now is set on traveling to Japan ASAP...lol...
As far as the nostalgia part goes...all this "Jules Vernes" stuff with the old-fashioned clothing and steam cars but hyper modern guns, technology and other stuff is called Steampunk. There is a rather large underground movement here in the US. With balls, parties, clothing designers, gun and related technology designers, awesome goggles and everything else you could see in one of the Ghibli or similar movies. :o) Google it, and you will be surprised!! :o)

I do know what steampunk is....have some friends who are into it. However, what the Ghibli museum has is not just steampunk as I have seen it, but more of a sort of mix between steampunk and country-Anne of Green Gables - plus a big dose of Showa period nostalgia. The last one at least I have never seen in steampunk pictures. That is a whole category unto itself in Japan though. (Showa retro, 昭和レトロ)I've edited the text above to try to describe the mix they have there, though you really need to see it in person!

Thank you Maki for this charming review. I'm a big Ghibli fan but didn't visit the museum when I was in Tokyo... I figured it would be more of a tourist trap, and I'd just end up amongst other western anime fans doing cliché stuff. But reading your review it actually sounds really, really wonderful. Wish I hadn't been so blasé about it, and it is going straight onto my must visit list now!

We live just near here and took friends for the first time this summer. All four of us just loved it, and we're ready to take our next round of visitors who love these films for a second visit. Getting the tickets can sometimes be tricky, but well worth the effort. It was so wonderful to be in the world we'd only seen on the screen that we didn't really want to leave. And when we did, we couldn't stop smiling.

Have a fabuloous 'mamma aiuto!' tote bag from there which I bought years ago. Just last month found out it means 'Help me mummy!' in Italian.

There you go.

IS it worth going to the museum if I am unfamiliar with Ghibli? It sounds like a very interesting place but will I enjoy it if I don't know Ghibli's work?

Should I visit the Ghibli museum if I am not familiar with his work? It seems like a pretty interesting place but will I enjoy it if I don't know Ghibli's work??

My sister is not really a big Ghibli fan, but she still enjoyed the museum a lot. Of course being the mother of two (Japanese) kids, she did know about Totoro and Ponyo at least! I would say that it's well worthwhile to at least see a couple of their movies before you go, especially Totoro (or My Neighbor Totoro) to get the most enjoyment out of it, but it should still be fun even if you haven't seen any of the movies...it will make you want to see them though!

Here are the movies that are most referenced, obliquely and otherwise, in the museum, as far as I can recall:

- Totoro...references to this movie are everwhere
- Porco Rosso
- Kiki's Delivery Service
- Castle In The Sky (Laputa)
- Ponyo (mainly in the shop, probably because it's the most recently released movie)

I've always wanted to go! But I didn't know I had to buy tickets in advance so I wasn't able to during my summer trip to Japan the past year. I'm definitely going back and I'm putting visiting the Ghibli museum on top of my to-do list!

Thanks for posting these wonderful pictures....
Maybe someday, i can go to Japan....
Keep posting....

I've never been able to ask an English speaking visitor to this museum before as she's so unknown to them.
I know that this series predates Ghibli, but are there any references to Heidi there, or any merchandise relating to her in the shop?
Thanks for the preview, I'm sure it won't be too long before pester power kicks in and I get dragged there (not that I'll mind, of course!). But I do have misgivings, I understand about visitors taking away only special memories (and gift shop items) to treasure, but a small child's recollections will all too quickly leak away to nothing. Seems unfair that only the adults and teenagers get to truly remember their day.

Heidi is not a Ghibli product...the only connection really is that several Ghibli people, including Miyazaki, worked on the animated series. So no, there is no Heidi at the museum. The only non-Ghibli animated characters with any presence there are Wallace and Gromit. They had their DVDs for sale at the gift shop.

Excellent excellent post! I absolutely LOVED this museum when I was there and so wished I could have taken pictures! I love that dark room with all the almost hologram-like Totoros and other characters moving about.

What was your movie like? The movie that I saw (back in April) was all about Mei and the Cat-bus. It had a huge land of all sorts of cat-buses, from a huge ship-sized one (with like 1000 legs), to a baby one that was caught. It was cute overload.

Thanks so much for the nostalgic pics. I really can't wait to go back! :)

great tip! It looks like a lot of fun and interesting too!

I loved this when I was there - it was like stepping into the wizard's cottage while he was away. Tragically,I only had an hour and a half,when I could have spent the whole day there easily!

Did you go and see the short film? The little theatre is a work of art in itself.

One reason you might want to buy tickets from outside the country instead of inside is that the tickets for foreign visitors don't have a time; they are good all day on the day of your visit.


I just discovered your websites and they're very fascinating! This blog on the Studio Ghibli Museum definitely made me reminisce about my first visit last summer!

Looking forward to reading more posts from you! :D

Long time lurker, first time commenter^^ I used to live in Mitaka, but unfortunatly I never got the chance to go to the ghibli museum, so seeing this was really cool!! hopefully one day I'll be able to go back and check it out~!

can't wait until the next post :)

Thanks for your detailed post. I'm going to Japan in the summer and will be in Tokyo for a couple of days and this is on my to do list. You mentioned that you could walk to the museum, do you mean from the train/bus station or from somewhere else?

Hi Mon, you can walk from the Mitaka train station to the museum.

I've been a fan of your blog for a while now and just wanted to Thank you for your Ghibli post!!! I really want to check out the museum sometime. ^_^

I'm visiting Tokyo end of March and when I called the travel agency to book a ticket a couple of weeks back, they entirely booked! But I'm so glad to see it here and I guess not going to the museum this time around will serve as a good excuse to go back there again! :)

Hi jeewon, yes unfortunately you are coming at a bad time as far as getting reservations for kid-oriented activities go, since end of March is a school vacation period! That's why the Ghibli museum is totally booked up already. (I just checked on the Lawson site, and the only time that is available in March is 16:00 on the 31st)

This being very nice post and information! it feel you that you are visiting the museum , and you enjoy as you are seeing the museum by yourself...

I visited the museum a few years ago and loved it (liked the gentle low-key feel compared to North American amusement places). I didn't get to see the Mei and the Kitten Bus mini movie either, unfortunately, but did get to eat an omlette shaped like Mei's hat in the restaurant.

This was a really lovely post!

We visited the Ghibli Museum during our visit to Japan this time last year.

The whole trip to Japan was magical and will stay with us for forever. We were a bit nervous about not being able to speak much Japanese though, and sometime felt a bit too frightened to do things. For example, we didn't go into the Straw Hat Cafe, so it's really nice to read your article about it!

Hi there =] I came across ur website while browsing. I am intending to visit studio ghibli =] How long did it take to tour the museum? =]

We spent about 6 hours there including lunch. You could spend longer there, or skim through it in an hour or so if you're in a big hurry. I would really allow a day for it though if you can, it's worth it!

woww.. sure! thx for your advice. All my travel companions are Ghibli fans =] shouldn't be a problem to persuade them to stay for 6 hours haha! (maybe minus lunch.. hehee.. from other people's reviews, the food are quite steep there)=]

anyway, thx alot! ill be following ur posts from now on =)

If I don't enjoy Miyazaki's work, should I still go and visit the museum?

I enjoy historic-fiction designs such as steampunk, but as a whole am distasteful towards both Miyazaki's films and his never-evolving artstyle. The one Miyazaki film I did like, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, based around/basis of what I consider to be his most complex and inspiring manga, was made prior to the establishment of Ghibli studios, and so is unlikely to be featured or on display.

Should I still make an attempt to go?

Thank you so much for this post!! I'm visiting Japan soon and I remembered this post when thinking about visiting the museum, and I'm glad I came back and checked because it's packed with useful info! I'll definitly be using your tips.

Thank you very much for this wonderful post! I will visit Tokyo next year and I will be taking note of the things that you have posted here. Good job and nice pictures!

Question: About how long did it take to stroll through the museum? I am planning on going and want to budget plenty of time, so Im looking for suggestions from those who have been.
Thanks in advance.

We were there for the first entry (9am I think) and were pretty much finished looking through the museum by lunchtime. We went for lunch, beating the crowds, then went to the gift shop, and were out of there by around 2:30 or 3.

On another trip (not described here) we took the kids, and that took a bit longer since they wanted to spend more time in certain areas. So allow an additional hour at least if you have kids along.

Love those homeware items you described, door locks, vine glasses and tea sets.
Very interesting article about your experience.


Great piece you have here about the Ghibli Museum. I was wondering about the shop inside--How crowded is the shop right when the museum opens? Does everyone go fishing towards it first? I'm hoping to buy my merchandise when I get there first and then have a ball with everything else after.

My husband and I are honeymooning in Tokyo and the Ghibli Museum was at the top of my to-do list. Every single ticket was sold our except for 2 p.m. on the day before we fly home, two weeks from now. So if you're visiting Japan for a limited time, I'd recommend buying tickets in advance. I was almost in tears at the Loppi machine as ticket after ticket was sold out! But we've got our entry and I'm so excited to finally go!