A couple of friends from Australia came to Tokyo recently. They were so excited for their trip and spent weeks planning where they wanted to eat and what they wanted to see and do. Near the top of their list was visiting an enchanting place in Mitaka by the name of Ghibli Museum!
The Ghibli Museum is more or less an extension of the beloved animation company, Studio Ghibli, known for its stories set in fantasy worlds, lovable characters and visually stunning art. You could say, Ghibli is to Japan what Disney is to the English-speaking world. The creative genius behind the company is Hayao Miyazaki, a household name in Japan. At 77 years of age, he has been in and out of retirement for the past decade! He keeps finding reasons to come back and we are definitely not complaining. And of course no film would be the same without a soundtrack. Lucky for Ghibli, the music mastermind Joe Hisaishi has composed the majority of the films’ soundtracks. His orchestral songs have the extraordinary ability to move people to tears, make their heart pound in fear, or make them feel like they’re flying with the birds in the sky!
Tsutaya’s Ghibli corner
Ghibli’s history began with Miyazaki and Takahata’s 1984 movie, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, a story of a girl who fights to bring peace to a world that’s being destroyed by man. On the back of the movie’s huge success, the pair decided to form their own company and so Studio Ghibli was born. Then came a 33-year-and-counting string of iconic movies: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke… and so many more. Ghibli made its mark internationally in 2001 with the magical, imaginative and brilliant Spirited Away, a story of a girl trapped in the spirit world. It won countless film awards and is arguably the most famous Ghibli movie outside of Japan.
So as my friends’ Japan trip drew closer, they started booking tickets and reserving tables. They opened up the Ghibli Museum website, clicked on the day they wanted to go… and then came the devastating news. The entire month had already sold out! What they hadn’t known was on the 10th of each month, tickets for the following month go on sale. Every day, there are only 4 admission times and a limited number of tickets available. By the 13th, the tickets were all but gone. It got me thinking, there must be other places you can go in Tokyo to enjoy the world of Studio Ghibli. The search was on!
1. Hayao Miyazaki’s clock, Shiodome
In collaboration with Nippon TV, Miyazaki lent his creative mind to a unique project. He designed a gigantic, 18m x 12m mechanical clock that looks like a creature straight out of one of his movies. Five times a day, this solar-powered clock comes to life for 3 minutes. It starts off slow but before you know it, the hands on the clock are spinning backwards, mechanical figures are bobbing up and down, steam is shooting out, doors are swinging open, and hidden features are revealed. I was completely enthralled by this fascinating little Ghibli world.
Located outside the Nippon TV building in one of Tokyo’s business districts, Miyazaki’s clock is tucked away, hidden among high rises. With no major signs in the area telling people of this clock, you really have to know it’s there or you’ll completely miss it. It took me ages to find but I think that is part of the fun!
2. Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum, Koganei
The Edo-Tokyo Architectural Museum sits within Koganei Park in Tokyo’s west. Buildings from the Edo and Showa Periods (17th century to post-war days) have been relocated here in order to preserve them for future generations to see. The buildings have been laid out like a village, making it look somewhat like a cool theme park.
With the Studio Ghibli head office literally just down the road, Miyazaki and his fellow directors used to frequent the museum for inspiration and to help them draw period-specific architecture. For example, the public bath house, Japanese bar, stationery store and house of Korekiyo Takahashi are all believed to have aided Miyazaki in designing locations in Spirited Away.
An old sento (public bath) full of paintings
Tile art in the sento
3. Donguri, Oshiage
No fan of Studio Ghibli should miss Donguri, the Ghibli merchandise store. There are a handful of Donguri stores, including a smaller one on Character Street in Tokyo Station. Kiddy Land in Omotesando also has a small selection of Ghibli goods. But my favourite shop is the Donguri at Tokyo Skytree in Oshiage. It’s a decent size with separate sections of the shop dedicated to different movies. There’s also plenty of limited edition products and a giant Totoro waiting to take photos with you! I don’t think it’s possible to leave this place without wanting to take everything home.
Kiki’s Delivery Service merchandise
Totoro, the forest spirit
4. Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory, Shimokitazawa
Shirohige’s is one of the most well-known novelty cafes in Tokyo. Better known as the ‘Totoro bakery’, the first floor is a bakery that sells adorable cream puffs in the shape of Totoro, while the second floor is a sit-down restaurant where you can eat the cream puffs as well as order meals like spaghetti. Located in the tranquil, leafy backstreets of Shimokitazawa, this shop is a great place to relax for an hour or two. I love that it’s surrounded by trees – the giant cedar tree in front of the shop fills the whole second floor window and makes it feel like you’re sitting in a tree house… a fitting location for Totoro, the forest spirit.
5. Hotel Gajoen Tokyo, Meguro
Hotel Gajoen is one of the most exquisite and also underrated hotels in Tokyo. It began as a restaurant built in 1928 that was used for weddings, before being extended to a hotel. Due to development along the Meguro River, the original building has almost completely been relocated – though still on the same site. The only part existing in its authentic state is a wooden building with a 100-step staircase called Hyakudan-kaidan in Japanese. The intricate woodwork here is absolutely breathtaking.
While the Hyakudan-kaidan is a must-see, the magnificent hotel lobby is known among Ghibli fans. Miyazaki is said to have used the stunning red entrance for inspiration in Spirited Away.
The girls’ toilets!
The historic ‘100-step stairway’
Wood carved pictures
Pearl art inside the elevators
Are you a Ghibli fan? What’s your favourite Ghibli movie?