For many, the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki are a gateway to a lifelong fascination with Japanese culture. From the emerald rice paddies of My Neighbor Totoro to the steamy bathhouse of Spirited Away, the images of Miyazaki’s films, produced by his company Studio Ghibli, leave a lasting impression on viewers young and old.
The Ghibli Museum is the whimsical counterpart to the Studio Ghibli production arm. Here, visitors are immersed in the world created by Miyazaki and his talented team. Spiraling iron staircases, a soaring entrance hall and stained glass emblazoned with familiar movie characters mark the visitor’s transition from the outside environment to the fantastical one inside. While perhaps the most significant, it is one of many places in Japan inspired by Studio Ghibli and its anime heritage.
Exhibits at the Ghibli Museum
The museum is divided into several exhibit spaces:
“Where a Film is Born” covers the first floor, tracking the progress of a Miyazaki masterpiece from drawing board to cutting room floor. Spaces such as “A Boy’s Room” give viewers a glimpse into what may inspire the filmmaker. Other displays detail the actual process of drawing storyboards and coloring cells. Piles of books on the floor, cans of pencil stubs and reams of papers all give the exhibit a lived-in feel, as if Miyazaki himself has just stepped out for a cup of tea.
The "Tri Hawks" reading room is the perfect place to surround yourself with some of Miyazaki’s own recommended books. While mostly in Japanese, even younger visitors will enjoy paging through the illustrated stories to see characters that inspired the filmmaker in his journey. Stop by for a few minutes or settle in for an afternoon – the space is open to all for an unlimited time.
The museum also organizes year-long special exhibits revolving around particular themes. In the past, such exhibits have covered topics ranging from food representation in Ghibli films to creative machines from the science fiction/fantasy realm to in-depth explorations of some of Studio Ghibli’s most popular creations.
The current exhibition, Sketch, Flash, Spark! – From the Ghibli Forest Sketchbook, explores the founding of the museum itself and the creative planning process involved (including Miyazaki's own sketches/notes), shedding light on the design and construction too. It runs from Nov 16th 2019 until May 2021.
Painting the Colors of Our Films, explored the use of color in bringing touches of reality into the works of founders Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki. The event ran from 17th Nov 2018 through to November 2019.
For those visiting the Ghibli Museum over the lunch hour, the Straw Hat Cafe on the museum grounds serves up both regular fare and specialties that can be found peppered throughout Miyazaki’s films. Consider a plate of Bacon and Eggs at the Castle from Laputa or the chocolate cake from Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Ghibli Museum Highlights
The museum is full of iconic Ghibli moments, with characters sure to be recognized by all. Children under 12 adore climbing all over the plush “Cat Bus”, a scaled-down version of the original feline vehicle that appeared in the classic My Neighbor Totoro. On the museum roof, a five-meter high Robot Soldier from Laputa (Castle in the Sky) looms over the scene. Be sure to poke into all the museum's corners, to discover doorways of varying sizes, unique stained glass and characters hidden in the unlikeliest of places.
Perhaps most unique is the opportunity to enjoy an original short film by Studio Ghibli in the museum’s movie theater, the Saturn Theater. The film changes from time to time, with the current production featuring a class of preschoolers on a "whale" of a journey. Be sure to stay until the film’s conclusion, when the theater’s domed roof is opened to the sky.
Don’t leave without stopping off in the museum gift shop—Mamma Aiuto of Porco Rosso fame—on the third floor, where a host of Ghibli products tempt even the most reluctant of buyers. Though the standard fare of stuffed animals and Ghibli DVDs are obviously available, the shop also carries items that range from puzzles to postcards to porcelain tableware emblazoned with popular characters. True fans can purchase a 3D model of the museum itself, replicated down to the finest details.
How to get tickets for Ghibli Museum
It’s no exaggeration to say that passes to the Ghibli Museum are one of the hottest tickets in town. The museum regularly sells out its weekend slots within hours of tickets going on sale, and dates that coincide with school holidays are always booked up quickly.
Tickets for the Ghibli Museum go on sale at 10:00am on the 10th of the preceding month. That means that for visitors planning a visit in May, tickets would go on sale on April 10th at 10:00am.
Entry times are limited to four separate time slots – 10am, 12pm (noon), 2pm and 4pm – though once inside, visitors are welcome to linger.
One cool thing about the Ghibli Museum is each ticket contains cell frames from one of the films.
Tickets can be typically purchased only through the authorized distributor, Lawson’s convenience store. In the case of group tickets, these can be arranged through JTB’s offices overseas.
- For those residing outside of Japan, tickets may be purchased online via the Lawson’s website beginning on the 10th of the month at 10am (Japan time).
- For those in Japan, tickets can also be purchased at Loppi machines in Lawson’s convenience stores. The Ghibli Museum website offers an excellent step-by-step guide in both Japanese and English on how to purchase tickets at the convenience store.
Ticket prices range from ¥1000 for adults, ¥700 for teenagers aged 13-18, ¥400 for ages 7-12 and ¥100 for ages 4-6. Children under the age of four are admitted for free. Up to six tickets are available for purchase by one person.
Please note that all tickets MUST be purchased in advance. There are NO tickets available at the museum itself.
Several online travel agencies and experience vendors also provide services to purchase Ghibli tickets without the hassle, as well as bundled with day tours.
Getting to Ghibli Museum
The Ghibli Museum is located in western Tokyo, halfway between the Chuo Line stations of Mitaka and Kichijoji.
For most visitors, the easiest access is from the south exit of Mitaka Station, where a loop bus runs from 7am until 8pm (a full schedule of the times can be found on here on the Ghibli website) to the Ghibli Museum and back again to the station. The loop bus costs ¥210 for a one-way trip, ¥320 for a round-trip.
In good weather, the museum can also be reached from Mitaka Station by a 15-minute walk along the picturesque Tamagawa Josui canal.
Things to know for your visit
Visitors should be aware that ID is necessary to enter the museum, if the ticket has their name listed. (This is often a requirement for tickets bought directly from the Lawson’s convenience store.) Be sure to bring a passport or ID card, which staff will check at the door.
Very little of the museum is signed in English, though an English brochure listing major sections of the facility is available. For other assistance, ask a Ghibli staff member – a number of them are fluent in foreign languages.
Things to Do around the Ghibli Museum
There’s plenty to do nearby the Ghibli Museum for visitors of all ages.
Kids will get a kick out of the wide-open spaces of Inokashira Park, and several playgrounds dot the area. The park’s swan boats are a hit with all ages, perfect for a paddle especially during cherry blossom season.
The park is also home to the Inokashira Zoo, which features mostly small animals with a particular focus on indigenous Japanese and other Asian species.
For shoppers, the boutiques of Kichijoji are an excellent place to wile away an afternoon. Kichijoji is also a fantastic place for vegetarians and vegans, with a number of local cafes and eateries serving up veggie-heavy dishes free of meat and animal products.