Japan Part 16: The Ghibli Museum and Goat-Flavored Ice Cream

This morning, our first morning in Tokyo, we made sure to meet Sensei at 8AM to grab our food stipend for the day before heading out. For these days in Tokyo, we were free to do as we pleased – Sensei hadn’t planned a single thing for us. In that case, Taylor and I had planned for months to make a stop at the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka.

Let the adventure begin.

We walked to the Asakusa station, bought some tickets on the local to Akihabara, then transferred to Sobu for Ochanomizu and the Chuo all the way to Mitaka. Thankfully, it was a shorter ride than I’d expected, as we kind of…got lost.

We had a map to follow once we got out of the Mitaka station – follow the waterworks straight down to the museum. Simple enough? Not really. When they said “waterworks,” Taylor and I were thinking something like a canal or river.

Yeah. Try a little brook thingy. Needless to say we missed it the first time we looked for it.

Once we realized that we weren’t on the right track (which, thankfully, only took a few minutes), we backtracked to the station and tried again with better results. Once we’d found that little stream that they called the “waterworks,” it really was a cinch getting to the museum. Follow the giant Totoro signs.

As soon as I saw the Ghibli museum, I was totally excited. They say that it’s supposed to be “a storybook world,” and that’s why they don’t let you take pictures inside.

In my personal opinion, the reason they don’t let you take pictures is because you’d never leave; you’d be taking so many pictures of all the awesome stuff.

On the sidewalk before we even entered the museum, we were dwarfed by the towering ivy sculptures and intrigued by the windows in the stones bursting with soot sprites. Even the natural leaves surrounding the rocks had soot sprites underneath.

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Once we were inside, we were instantly drawn to a display that had clay figurines of many Ghibli characters like Totoro and the cat bus. Each figurine was suspended on a circle around which slightly altered versions of it were also attached. The lights would go down, the circles spin, and a strobe light flicker. Suddenly, they looked smoothly animated!

There were a lot of displays that involved how to animate things, and we got to watch a bunch of film strip zoom through cameras all over the place. One was a short film on evolution, some of them included zoom boxes to let you zoom in on a place in the scene, and another was a box of instruments on sticks that, when moved together, made the whole scene animate.

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After we’d wandered around looking at all the amazing things inside, we went into Miyazaki’s office to see numerous images of pigs (a representation of himself), the pterodactyl that hangs from the ceiling in Spirited Away, huge walls of concept art and final panels, and the progression panels that animate the whole scene.

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There were secret tunnels all over the museum that you can crouch through to get to new areas or get a bird’s eye view of the place. It was pretty sweet.

Inside one of the secret passages was a book store containing entire collections of concept art for whole movies. I noticed one on Mononoke.

Once we’d gotten to the top floor of the museum, my heart just about broke. There was a LIFE SIZED, fluffy, USABLE cat bus on the top floor. But you had to be in elementary school in order to get in it. My life is officially over. I’ll never get inside the cat bus. Boo.

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We stopped shortly to soothe our aching hearts at the museum’s café. Taylor ordered minestrone and a drink called “here comes the sun.” Apparently, it starts dark like pre-dawn and, as you mix it with a straw (that’s actually made out of straw, by the way), a chemical reaction happens that makes the drink change color just like the sunrise.

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And it really worked. Well tickle me pink. While we were both oohing and aahing over her drink, my order of banana bread showed up. I had already broken into half of the food that my host parents had been giving me, so I wasn’t too hungry yet. Still, the bread was great!

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I did find it a little hilariously ironic that the menu outside the café was held up by a wooden sculpture of Porco Rosso and the main dish of the day was pork.

Oops.

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While we were outside, we explored a bit down below the museum and pumped up some water in the fountain just because we could. The place was beautiful, sporting real ivy all around and stained glass windows of Ghibli characters, like this one of Haku.

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Before we went back inside to wade through the crowd of middle-schoolers currently in the gift shop, I suggested that we climb the tower to the roof of the museum to see the iron giant from Nausicaa and a small rooftop garden. After that, we popped into the gift shop shortly, where  I picked up a stuffed animal Yakul (from Mononoke) that I’d always wanted and Taylor found her soul mate – a build-it-yourself model of an Ohm from Nausicaa.

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Needless to say she went away happy.

The last thing we had to do in the museum was to visit the theater, home of a Studio Ghibli museum exclusive movie. We have no idea what it was called, but it was about a witch and an egg princess and a dough man baked into bread. It was actually pretty epic. The theater itself was small, and our ticket for admission into the theater (which looked wicked awesome, by the way) was also our ticket for the movie.

Inside the theater, on the ceiling, was the rotating day and night panels of the sun and moon that can be seen in Spirited Away. This trend continued throughout the movie (such as with the pterodactyl mentioned earlier or the fact that the ceiling fans were Porco Rosso propellers).

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All in all, it was a pretty EPIC museum. Everyone should go, whether they like Ghibli or not. Just be advised that you must buy your tickets way in advance (we bought ours in April for a June visit) and in America – it’s hard (or impossible) to find tickets in Japan.

After that, Taylor and I were both pretty tired, so we decided to make only one more stop for the day – something we’d been looking forward to forever. Ice Cream City.

We rode to Ikebukuro, then took a local train to Higashi Ikebukuro. From there, it was a simple matter of following an underground tunnel to find Sunshine City mall. Taylor had no idea where we were going, so I led the way.

We walked around in the mall for a little while before I directed us to the second floor for NamjaTown, where I recalled that Ice Cream City was supposed to be. Man, I was so psyched to try all different kinds of weird flavored ice cream. I had my heart set on trying cactus flavor, but after that I wasn’t sure. I was thinking maybe eel or goat. After having tasted real raw horseflesh, I no longer saw the need to order the raw horseflesh ice cream.

However, after quite a while of looking, we just couldn’t find Ice Cream City. I knew we were in the right place, so I went and asked an information desk.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Ice Cream City is closed. It will open in two weeks.”

Of course it will. Because we’ll only be here two more days. Poopoo.

Oh well. Our ice cream dreams shattered, we decided to wander around a little more. We happened upon a Ghibli store (where I bought a whole set of Totoro miniatures so that I could line them all up like in the movie), then we decided that we were still hankering for some ice cream. Thankfully for us, there was a Coldstone nearby. I ordered some huge conglomeration of chocolate, fudge, chocolate, and fudge, then we sat and rested our feet for about an hour.

Good times, good times. Sometimes it’s nice to travel just with the people you actually want to travel with.

Once we’d finished, we got back on the trains and returned to Asakusa. As we were heading back to the hostel, I saw a great photo opportunity to get the Skytree in the same picture as a temple, so I ran over quickly to get a shot. Taylor followed, and next thing we knew, we were exploring the whole temple compound and the shopping district around it. 

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I must say, this temple had THE BIGGEST paper lanterns I have ever seen. Me for scale.

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It wasn’t long after we returned to the hostel that Sarah and Amy came back as well. It was obvious that Amy was exhausted, so she didn’t want to go back out with Sarah to meet Yosuke, a Japanese boy that Sarah’s family had hosted quite some years ago. Taylor, ever the saint, agreed to take Amy’s place at the dinner, so Amy and I sat and chitchatted about anime and video games for a few hours while we rested our feet. On the bunk beds.

After a quick run to a nearby Lawsons (a convenience store where we happened to meet up with Taylor and Sarah coming back), I snacked on some homestay family gift food while Taylor excitedly built her model Ohm that she bought from the Ghibli store. From that moment on, I (and eventually the others too) started affectionately calling her model “our ohmie” or “our ohmboy.”

The grin on her face brought by building such a hideous creature priceless.

While she was building our ohmie, Brian asked me to play Go with him. Since I was probably the only one on the trip who knew how to play Go, I agreed. Go, in its most basic explanation, is kind of like Othello. The goal is to capture territory, and you can do that by surrounding pieces. However, unlike Othello, surrounding just the ends is not enough. The person with the most territory at the end wins. For a more detailed explanation, check out good old Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rules_of_Go.

It was a long game, and he was quite good. In captures, he totally beat me. But in territory, I won. So while I technically won the game, he was the better fighter. By the time we’d finished the game, it was after 11, so we decided that we’d all go out together the next day and that we should probably get some sleep. Lights off, good night.

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