Once again I woke up really early this day, so much so that I decided to just go out for a walk in Shibuya and listen to the latest episode of the Idle Thumbs podcast.
If you want to skip straight to the photos go here to my gallery for Day 7!
Like I said before, there’s not a lot going on in the morning in Shibuya, but it was a nice relaxed walk around what are normally very crowded streets. I did spot several people in suits getting ramen after what was probably a very late night of drinking.
Today was the big day. Arguably the entire point of the whole trip was for Mark to finally go to the Studio Ghibli museum and see “Mei and the Kittenbus”! Not long before the trip we also introduced Heather and JL to My Neighbor Totoro and other Hayao Miyazaki films, but the Ghibli museum can be appreciated by anyone. Of course, it’s that much more magical a place if you’ve seen all the films.
It was a bit confusing finding the right train to Mitaka. There were two different orange lines that had the exact same shade of orange, but we managed to get on the right train without any delays.
I didn’t get any reaction shots from Mark on the way to the museum, but I could still tell that he was excited. The journey to the museum is a nice tease because the bus station has its Ghibli/Totoro sign and of course the bus there is covered in images from the opening credits of My Neighbor Totoro.
Approaching the museum you can spot the robot from Laputa up on the roof. I don’t know the specifics of the renovation of the museum, but the first thing I noticed was the new paint on the exterior that kind of made it look like a multi-flavored box of ice cream. The other thing I love about the museum is the plant life growing all over it, just like in a Miyazaki film.
There was a long line to get in, and for a moment I was a bit worried about how strict the admission time was going to be. Fortunately it didn’t end up being an issue, Mark took out his tickets and passport and everything was all right.
When we were mere feet from the entrance I could see Mark had his quiet excitement face on again. I think he was probably holding back some tears this time too. I told everyone to just soak in all the details like the fresco painting in the entrance, because there was no re-entry to that area. I took some photos of the stained glass Totoros, because until we emerged on the roof top photography was strictly prohibited.
Just like at Satsuki and Mei’s house I’m grateful that photography isn’t allowed inside the museum. If it were I could imagine all the shutters going off, selfies, snapchats, vlogging or whatever people would be up to nowadays that would disrupt the environment. I said it before, but the Ghibli museum is one of the classiest and most elegant places I’ve ever been to, and to call it a “museum” is almost misleading.
As soon as we got into the museum we made a beeline to the theater to watch “Mei and the Kittenbus”!!! I don’t want to spoil anything for people who will make their own trip to see it, but after seeing the film Mark told us that he started crying as soon as the opening credits started. Not many things can make me feel like a kid anymore, but seeing that film is one of them, and I didn’t even see Totoro when I was a kid! Mark told me later that after the film he was so choked up that he couldn’t even respond when we asked him if he enjoyed it.
After the film we went to the room which is all about the many processes of animation. There are myriad examples of animation from simple zoetropes to a massive display which contains a short film about evolution going in a continuous loop. It has multiple monitors and lamps, so that you can look at any part of the film strip to watch the animation play out.
The star of the show is a 3D Totoro Zoetrope which uses dozens of real sculptures of the characters from Totoro spinning in a circle, and when the strobe light above it turns on the characters animate! There are examples of this sort of installation at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, and I’ve also seen videos of one for Toy Story, but this is the only one which has Totoro in it.
The other rooms that it’s easy to spend a lot of time in are the ones explaining the technical process of animation from concept art, photo reference, character design sketches, storyboarding, background painting, cel painting and filming. There are tons of model sheets, animation notes, and character design notes plastered on the walls. My favorite is a sheet explaining that Totoro’s eyes should never bug out like a cartoon character’s, they should stay “realistic” in size.
Up another level was the catbus room for small children. The museum guide went over ground rules such as no jumping off of the cat bus (sliding down the side is okay though). JL played with the other children for a few minutes, and then we headed outside to go see the Laputa robot!
A lot has changed in my life since the last time I was up on that roof, but it still remains a sight to see. It’s both exciting and sad to see the poor robot in a state of disrepair. It’s amazing how much you grow to love the robot in the film from so little screen time.
After taking our photos we headed back in to find the other special exhibit which was the ADULT SIZED CAT BUS. There’s one section of the museum where they rotate the exhibit, and this time when you enter the room you find that you’re already inside the cat bus!
The structure was rigid, but the material they lined it with was incredibly soft! The seats didn’t have as much sink as in the film, but I was still overjoyed to sit down and feel the soft fur of the cat bus. it was so soft that if I were by myself I probably would’ve rubbed my face all over it. I don’t know how long we spent in there, but we definitely milked the moment.
After an indeterminate amount of time we went to the café to get some lunch. The wait was about an hour long, but we drank some Nausicaa themed beer while waiting. The museum also had a fan set up that would spray a mist of water to people in its path. While it wasn’t unreasonably hot that day, it was still a welcome way to cool down.
Once we got to the seated area of the line, there were menus available so that we could plan out what we wanted to eat. Last time I went I ate the curry, so this time I decided to get the omurice, an iced tea, and the parfait which I enjoyed during my last visit.
Omurice is a very home-cooking sort of Japanese meal which was perfect for the feel of the museum. The mix of ice cream, whipped cream and fruit in the parfait was perfect because it’s not too sweet or filling. Also, it’s topped with konpeito which is the sugar candy that the makkurokurosuke in Spirited Away eat!
After our meal we went back to the museum to do some shopping! I bought the Mei and the Kittenbus book, and some plush specific to the film which I won’t show because of spoilers.
Before we called it a day we took another visit to the adult cat bus and also the animation room so that I could watch the 3D Totoro zoetrope another several times.
And that was it, mission accomplished! We headed back to Shibuya to drop off our things. I looked up a sushi place that looked pretty good and we got dinner.
It was something of a hole in the wall place on the 3rd floor of a building but their sushi was quite good. They also had amaebi (sweet shrimp) which was DELICIOUS. It was so good that we ordered some extras. Once again I noticed that the eel sushi was totally different in flavor and texture compared to what I’m used to getting in the States.
It was hard to believe it was our last night in Japan. We had done so much, and yet it still felt like we had done so little! Everyone else was pretty tired so they all stayed in.
I decided to head out and just get some drinks by myself. I ended up meeting some Swedish tourists and talked to them for a while. I don’t know how it is that they picked up that I spoke English, but they were delighted to talk to another English speaker. I talked to them a lot about video games and trailers, because of course I did 😛
After that I went to a nightclub close by because I was just curious what it would be like. It turns out nightclubs are INCREDIBLY CROWDED. Or at the very least, the one I went to was. It was so crowded that there’s little to do other than jump up and down in place. Also, smoking is permitted inside which was kind of gross because it everything smelled like cigarette smoke.
The main room of the club I went to was DJed by someone who played a lot of American music from the 90s and on. Another interesting thing is that the sideline tables were women only areas. On one hand that seems like a good idea, but Heather made the good point that women only areas just implies that women in the other parts of the club would be okay with anything guys do to them, and doesn’t address a wider systemic problem. A complicated issue to be sure, but it was still interesting to see.
I’m glad that I experienced a Shibuya nightclub, but between the lack of space and cigarette smoke it’s not something I would probably do again unless I was there with a friend or group of friends.
Anyway, tomorrow we were going back to California. Next blog post will be a compilation of my Japan travel tips!