Skip to main content

Visiting Ghibli Museum

Totoro guides you on the path there
At the other end of the technology spectrum to the Digital Art Museum, the Ghibli Museum is a no-photos shrine to the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Refreshingly low tech and hands on, it brings the films to life and gives you insights into the animation process. Even if you've never seen films like Kiki's Delivery Service or Princess Mononoke, you'd recognise figures like Totoro and the distinctive animation style. Approaching the building, you are met at a ticket booth staffed by Totoro himself though you have to wander around the corner to a long line to get in. 

The Ghibli Museum building is three stories
The Museum has been here since 2001 with a series of permanent exhibitions refreshed by newer displays and a short film usually only seen in the museum's theatre. Ours was Boro the Caterpillar, a 14-minute peek into the birth and early life of a cute critter. There's great walks through the studios that showcase the animation process from pencil sketching, inking, colouring and filming each frame. It's like stepping into the studios right down to their reference books, uneaten apples and overfilled ashtrays. The rooftop has one of the few photo opportunities at the museum with the Iron Giant towering over a small garden.
Sculpture of a robot, the Iron Giant
The Iron Giant manages being the most-photographed part of the museum with quiet disappointment
A temporary exhibition looked at food with images slicing across films including characters from several films using chopsticks or gobbling noodles. Then there were reconstructions of scenes from films including a dirigible's galley and a traditional kitchen. Upstairs is the highlight for kids: a chance to climb on the Cat Bus. Kids get a five minute romp to crawl, climb or sleep on the roof of this classic Totoro character. The top floor also features the gift shop, which boasts a huge range of toys, puzzles, animation cells and more. The store is named Mamma Aiuto for the sky pirates in the movie Porci Rosso but the Italian for ‘Mama help’ makes sense when you see the huge range to tempt littlies (and biggies). The store doesn't feel forced though as it is not the standard ‘exit through the gift shop’ of many museums and you get a free clipping of film as part of your ticket if you want to save on souvenirs. Downstairs a zoetrope animates a scene from Totoro and there’s other working models of animation’s history. All up an amazing museum - particularly for under 12s. Glad we went before the new Ghibli theme park opens in 2022.

Tips for visiting
  • We booked tickets three months in advance via the website, as they release tickets in month blocks. It's a good thing to book first because days vary and we spent a happy three hours there.
  • It's easy enough to catch the train to Mitaka station on the JR Chuo Line and walk around the the museum (which is signposted). We caught the local bus back which leaves from not far from the exit. The website has handy instructions
  • Though it is billed as 'let's get lost together' with no itinerary prescribed, we found it best to turn the building upside down by starting on the third floor with a romp on the Cat Bus and look at the souvenir shop by taking the spiral staircase upstairs. Then wander down to level two which has the animation studios. Then we finished with the film on level 1 at the end which was the perfect slow down after all the excitement.
  • Food was fairly basic and we went with the take-out option of hotdogs. The Straw Hat Cafe promises sit-down meals but you can also stop at cafes on the route to the cafe in Minaka or grab snacks from the convenience stores around the station.
  • Getting there first thing (opens 10am) will give some of the crowds the slip and Saturdays are busiest. It's closed Tuesday. Crowds are inevitable (especially in Mamma Aiuto) though as this is one of Tokyo's most popular family destinations.
Cheeky pig in the garden