Day 4 was our big travel day. We were finally taking the Shinkansen bullet train! We made another stop at the Lawson to get some rice balls and other food for breakfast. Then we took the subway to Shinagawa to get a ticket to Nagoya. I was a little worried about buying shinkansen tickets, but the ticket takers spoke very good English.
If you want to skip straight to the photos, click here for the Day 4 gallery!
Another thing to note about Japan is how QUIET it is in public places like subway trains and the Shinkansen. Of course Japanese people can be loud and rowdy as any other people, but when in shared public spaces they’re generally very respectful of people around them.
Unfortunately it was quite cloudy that day, so we missed our opportunity to see Mt. Fuji on the way to Nagoya. I also didn’t know precisely when we would be passing it, so it’s possible we just missed it.
From Nagoya we took the subway, and a small maglev train to Moricoro park where we were going to see Satsuki and Mei’s house! The park didn’t feel like a typical one where people come to jog and play Frisbee, it was more like a giant region with separated areas that you get to via bus.
We caught a bus that would take us to Satsuki and Mei’s house. The tour guide was an adorable older woman who guided us as the bus drove. She only spoke Japanese, but I presume she was explaining the different aspects of the park. JL saw an elevated seat that he wanted to sit in, so he asked me how to say “May I sit here please?” in Japanese. He asked the woman, and got to take the seat!
We got to the ticket window where there was a small cart of Ghibli merch, but it didn’t have anything that I hadn’t already seen at the previous stores. They divided us into groups A and B, while another tour guide explained the ground rules. She only spoke Japanese, so they gave us a sheet which had all of the rules in English.
We had 15 minutes to explore the exterior of the house, and 15 minutes for the interior. Photography was permitted outside of the house only. It was all right to take photos looking into the house, but all photography was prohibited once we were inside.
I was actually very grateful for this rule because it forced me to explore every nook and cranny, and just concentrate on the experience. The more and more pervasive social media gets, the more I want to put the camera and cell phone away and look completely with my eyes.
It was a short walk to the house, and there it was!
The house is designed with the same care, and level of detail that they have at the Ghibli Museum. It’s meant to depict the house a couple years after the events of “My Neighbor Totoro” which means that the family has had time to settle in. There were also some touches that wouldn’t make sense within that conceit, but were great fan service. For example, they had the metal bucket with its bottom missing that Mei was looking through when she spotted the chibi Totoro!
Obviously the terrain of the area wasn’t the same as in the film, but I didn’t hold that against them. There was a functioning water pump, and also the bicycle that they use in the film.
Everyone couldn’t help but look under the house for Totoros. We didn’t see any, but there were definite signs of them in the form of acorns.
The father’s study was an exhibit unto itself, jam packed with archaeology books and other research materials. There’s also a calendar presumably hand drawn by Mei! I read that the drawing is different depending on what month you go during the year.
Everything was meticulously detailed, from the broken boards under the house to the sandals. Also, the pillar that Satsuki and Mei pushed around when they first arrived had bricks surrounding it to prevent it from moving around.
In an area nearby there were also plants growing where Mei and Satsuki planted Totoro’s magical seeds!
The interior had an incredible amount of love and care put into it. Every drawer was filled with things you’d expect to find like futons, clothing, toys, Satsuki and Mei’s hair brush, slippers and backpacks. The kitchen had a full pantry all with containers and items from the 1950s. Unfortunately the attic wasn’t accessible, but from behind the roped off staircase you could imagine going up to find makkurokurosuke.
The cutest thing were the Japanese children re-enacting parts of the film. One kid enjoyed his time opening the window shutters saying “A-re!???” just like when Mei and Satsuki searched the house for the attic. Of course there were also kids yelling up to the attic: “Makkurukurosuke, dete oide!”
Before we knew it our time at the house was over, but the warmth, memory, and magic of being in the presence of a place I’d only seen animated made real will last forever!
We took the subway back to Nagoya station where we had enough time to get some food, and then head to Kyoto. Nagoya station has a TON of places to eat, but I picked what looked like a restaurant with very traditional Japanese food. We got a little bit lost while reading the directory, and a very cute old man offered to help us get to our restaurant. He ended up giving us slightly wrong directions, but his offer of help still warmed my heart.
I got a dish with salmon, rice, miso, and a little pasta and hijiki salad. This is definitely the sort of meal that you cannot just wolf down in a hurry because everything is in separate little containers. This was the only meal of this type we had on our trip, so I’m glad we found that place.
Then it was another short shinkansen trip to Kyoto! When we arrived at Kyoto we had to go to the office of the company that arranged our Airbnb. I was using Google Maps but it was still kind of hard to find the office because it was on the 6th floor of a building. While searching, we bumped into a Japanese man who was waiting on the sidewalk. It turned out he was also waiting for an Airbnb key, and his travel companion had already gone up to the office, so we went up and it was where we needed to be.
The house was a short 8 minute subway ride from Kyoto station, and another 10 minute walk once we got there. On the walk there we saw a lot of women wearing yukata. My first thought was that it was because we were in Kyoto, but then I saw some people were setting up for what looked like a Summer festival on the street.
We got to the house and settled in. It was incredibly spacious and had a lot of great decorations, and of course a very modern bath and toilet. After a short break we headed out to see what was going on with the street festival.
By the time we got back to the main street it was BUSTLING. I googled it later, and it turned out that we had coincidentally arrived in Kyoto during the height of the Gion Matsuri! There was every imaginable type of street food being sold, people drinking beer on the street, and just everything you would want for a Summer festival. The food, oh man THE FOOD.
We got takoyaki from one stand that was the most delicious I’ve ever had. The ingredients were all out on display including quail eggs which made the takoyaki incredibly creamy in the center! I don’t think I’ll be able to find anything like that in the U.S.
We also got some traditional fish shaped red bean cakes from another stand. I love food vendors that use batter because it’s always a treat to watch how quickly and efficiently they pour the batter and turn the irons on the grill.
We also got some amazing yakitori of various types of meats. I don’t remember what they all were, but I remember the chicken being especially tender. Our fingers were sticky with the sauce coating the meat.
The other highlight was a street version of Okonomiyaki! Typically it’s served like a pancake on a table that everyone digs into, but this was more like a wrap or omelette with the bacon and cabbage ingredients on the inside.
For dessert we got candied cherries. I had always seen these in manga and anime, but never ate them in real life. I didn’t even know that they were cherries, just that they looked delicious.
We also got chocobananas which I didn’t realize until I bit into it were frozen chocolate bananas. In retrospect it made perfect sense, since the chocolate was solid.
We also got some croquettes which somehow I didn’t get a photo of, but they just gave us a small paper bag with a few croquettes in them. We got full very quickly, but if I had a bigger stomach I could’ve eaten there all night.
We went back to the house because JL was pretty tired. Mark stayed behind again while Heather and I went to explore some more. We went to Nishiki Market and also Gion which is famous for geisha. We only saw a couple in what looked like a promotional beer stand, but it was still cool to see.
The street was closed off, so it was jam packed with people as far as the eye could see. We went as far as Yasaka shrine which was beautiful at night with its torii gates and lit up paper lanterns. The shrine area didn’t have much more to offer than we had already seen so we headed back to the apartment.
Just walking around the streets of Kyoto with groups of people and couples walking around was incredibly pleasant. Something I love about Japan is how safe I feel in almost every area that I’m in.
We were pretty wiped after a long day of travel and sightseeing, but tomorrow was going to be another incredibly packed day. On to Day 5!