Move over Mickey Mouse: in Japan it’s a giant cuddly fur-ball called Totoro who commands national icon status. This adorable animated creature, star of My Neighbour Totoro, is among the pantheon of characters from the movies of celebrated director Miyazaki Hayao and his colleagues at Studio Ghibli – Japan’s equivalent of Disney.
Just like Walt, Miyazaki had an ambitious vision that his movies could come alive in real life. The result – Ghibli Museum, Mitaka – is an opportunity to step into a world that, true to Miyazaki’s words, “is full of interesting and beautiful things”. On a far more intimate scale than Mickey’s sprawling theme park across Tokyo Bay, this candy-coloured, stained-glass-decorated fantasy on the edge of western Tokyo’s leafy Inokashira Park provides an unparalleled experience – a chance not only to learn about the art of animation but also to glimpse the genius of an Oscar-winning director.
You don’t need to be familiar with Ghibli’s movies, such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo, to enjoy the museum. Every little detail has been thought of – from the rivets on the giant robot soldier from Castle in the Sky on the roof to the straws, made of real straw, served with drinks in the Straw Hat Café. Amazingly detailed dioramas and Technicolor displays evoke the many steps needed to make an animated movie, and a child-sized movie theatre screens original short animated features, exclusive to the museum.
To make this charming experience even more special for visitors, only 2400 tickets are available daily, meaning everyone can move around the compact galleries comfortably – and kids won’t feel crowded when romping around the giant cuddly cat bus, reading a book in the library or rummaging through the quirky gift shop.