Today is the only day of our trip that we are locked into a particular activity. Ghibli museum tickets are not sold to foreigners inside Japan, you have to buy them in advance from a reseller*. The museum is a little way out from Tokyo proper and will be our longest train trip so far. Somehow we managed to go the wrong way on a train, I think because it wasn’t obvious that we should have changed trains, and then got on a train that was physically present but logically cancelled. It was OK though, several other people got on and a nice conductor came down the train and informed us all politely that we were on the wrong train. After these two missteps we managed to get to our destination.
On advice from a friend we ignored the directions on the official sites and got off the train at Kichijoji station, one stop before the recommended Mitaka station. This allowed us to take a stroll through the lovely Inokashira Park and scout out a location to eat lunch later. We arrived at the museum quite early and were able to go straight in without queuing.
I have mixed feelings about the Ghibli museum. Of course it is full of charming and beautiful exhibits relating to the films and works of Studio Ghibli. There are loads of Heath Robinson devices powering puppets, dioramas, zoetropes, film projectors and many others which were as intriguing for their mechanical complexity as for the images they produce. There are also some rooms mocked up to be like artists rooms full of a jumble of photographs, concept sketches, books, drawing materials and detailed models. Outside there is a model of the giant robot from Laputa on the roof. Admission price includes an exclusive Ghibli film which you can’t see elsewhere which was charming and funny.
All of this is really lovely but I have a couple of issues with the museum in general.
1. There is no signage or description of the exhibits in any foreign language and while a lot of the exhibits require no explanation some of them have lengthy Japanese descriptions that it would be lovely to be able to understand. For example in the areas that describe the process of developing from concept to character design. The film you get to see has no dialogue as such but does have some Japanese words and text and understanding these would certainly add to the enjoyment of the film.
2. Many of the exhibits are aimed squarely at children. This is obviously no bad thing if you are/have a child, there are lots of buttons to press and levers to pull and little doors to open and peer though. However, I found that the novelty wore off quickly and that it felt wrong to get in the way of the children who were excitedly playing with them. Many of the exhibits are down at the eye level of a 5 year old or lower making it difficult for somewhat creaky older persons to get down to the right level to see them.
Of course there is nothing wrong with the museum’s choice to present its exhibits this way but I did find it less enjoyable than anticipated as a result. You aren’t allowed to take photographs inside the museum but you are allowed to outside so everyone gets a picture of the giant robot on the roof.
The museum isn’t very large and we were finished looking around by lunch time after being inside for almost exactly 2 hours. We headed back to Inokashira Park to find a spot to eat the packed lunch we bought on our way home last night. We had our first hot coffee in a can from a vending machine which was an odd experience. Although we could tell from the can and the machine which would be hot (the Japanese drink a lot of cold coffee so be careful if you prefer your coffee hot!) and which had milk, we could not tell how sweet they would be. So we ended up with one very sweet milky coffee and one very bitter black coffee which we mixed together to get a more palatable beverage.
Inokashira Park is centred around a lake and is full of flowering cherry trees. It was fun to watch the people paddling around the lake in hired rowing boats and pedal powered swan boats. There is a local legend that riding the swan boats with your girlfriend will mean a swift end to the relationship, probably when you steer your swan into another swan and cause her to fall out! We didn’t want to ride in the swans anyway. A path runs round the perimeter of the lake and is lined with cherry trees. It was lovely to stroll round the lake looking at all the flowers, even as the weather started to turn a bit dull and wet. We found a little shrine on an island in the lake to have a look around as well.
We walked to Mitaka station along the officially recommended route which as anticipated was pretty dull and even without pedestrian paths in places. We definitely recommend Kichijoji station and the walk through the park. Took the train back towards Tokyo and stopped at Shibuya to have a look at the crowds. Take a look at the next post to see what happened there.
*We bought Ghibli tickets from http://www.japanspecialist.co.uk/ Tickets are much more expensive for foreigners than for locals. Local price is 1000yen which is about £5.50 at the exchange rate while we were there. Ours came to £12 each, roughly 2180yen. Tickets are strictly in advance and can only be used on the specific day for which they are purchased (apparently there used to be a time slot as well). The booking procedure was a little complex too as there is no online indicator of availability, instead you email a preferred set of dates to the reseller and then they contact you to let you know what they have available and you pay over the phone. All seems a little backwards for this day and age.