Situated in the suburbs of Mitaka, the Ghibli Museum is both a showcase for the famed animation studio and a playground for children of any age.
Known in the west for its films such as Spirited Away, the museum’s design was informed by Hayao Miyazaki’s personal vision. He didn’t want it to become yet another boring pile of exhibits. Instead, he “put it together as if it were a film,” creating a series of rooms with motifs from every single piece of animation he had produced or found interesting, visitable in any order. The result is like stepping into the wizard’s cottage whilst he is away, with artist’s materials, animation cells, and sketchbooks preserved alongside overflowing ashtrays and cardboard boxes filled with reusable pencil stubs.
The motifs begin when you step off the bright yellow bus - the bus stop is in the shape of the studio’s mascot, Totoro.
One particular delight is the room that showcases different methods of animation, which draws your gaze from the zoetrope near the entrance, on past the moving wooden figures, pausing to see the stop-motion carousel spin up, then stopping dead at the Heath Robinson-like film projector in a glass case to view the “evolution of man” movie at different points in the projector.
Another, sadly for under-12s only, is the playroom that holds a plush Catbus complete with chuckable Soot Sprites.
The main attraction is the short film that can only be seen in the Museum in its tiny theatre. Rotated out every day, they are in Japanese (without subtitles), though it is often easy enough to follow regardless. You receive your ticket when you arrive, and may have to wait for 5-15 minutes to get seats.
Photography is prohibited inside the building except in the rooftop garden, which is dominated by a huge bronze figure from Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
There is also a cafe, gift shop, and bookshop inside, and a picnic park outside where families can sit under the cherry blossoms in March/April.
Know Before You Go
Access is strictly limited - only 200 admissions per day for overseas visitors. Tickets must be purchased in advance; there is no ticket office at the museum. Tickets go on sale on the web in advance beginning on the 10th of the month beforehand, starting at 10 a.m. and sell out quickly, within days or hours.
Tickets can also be purchased in Japan at Loppi kiosks at Lawson convenience stores.
The best way to get to it is by train and bus.
Train: Take the JR Chuo Main Line west from Shinjuku Station to Mitaka Station to catch the bus. Most large stations will have maps in both Japanese and English. (Do NOT go to Mita Station on the Yamanote Line, which is entirely different.)
Bus: From Mitaka Station, go to the South Exit and move towards the bus stands nearby and slightly to your left. Buy the ticket to the museum from the attendant and wait for the museum bus, which is unmistakable - bright yellow and covered with cartoon characters.
Alternatively, if you have a map to guide you, you can get off at Kichijoji Station (one stop before Mitaka Station) and walk 1.4 kilometers (just under a mile) through Inokashira Park to reach the museum at the far edge of the park.