At the Ghibli Museum

“You’re going to Japan by yourself? You’re either brave or stupid!” I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, but in any case, it was a reply I heard frequently when I told people of my plans. (And from my own grandmother, no less.) Despite the popularity of backpacking among the young adult crowd, traveling is still mainly seen as a group affair, something you do with friends or family or, if nothing else, a guided tour group. I receive enough strange glances for my solo trips around the US, but to leave the country alone? Surely I must be mad. (I probably am, regardless.)

However, through a strange set of coincidences it came to light that I would be traveling to Tokyo within the same time period as a friend’s journey to Japan, and discovering this we quickly made plans to get together during our trips. By further coincidence (or perhaps it was SophieLuck) it turned out that we would both be staying in the same part of town, though SophieLuck wasn’t strong enough to have us booking the same hotel.

If you couldn’t tell by my post about roommates, I’m not exactly the most social of people. Since moving to Hawaii I’ve had to redefine my definition of antisocial, but I’m still not the type who needs to be around other people, and more often than not I prefer time to myself. This is true when I’m traveling as well, and the majority of my traveling has been done on my own, although many times I end up meeting up with friends at whatever destination I find myself at. That said, it was a relief to meet up with Su and her friends on my third day in Japan. I found my English again and finally could hold conversations consisting of words as well as gestures. I had someone to eat with and laugh with and get lost with (and of each the trip was plentiful), and upon returning home I’ve had someone with which to reminisce. “Remember the time we got chased out of the Japanese porn shop?” (We thought it was an internet cafe. Really.)

Ghibli Museum
We met at the train station early Saturday morning and, after the preliminary hugs and greetings, set off to Mitaka. Having already been in Tokyo for several days, and with my trusty subway guide on hand, I acted as navigator. Unfortunately, having already been in Tokyo for several days, I was also plagued with painful blisters, and once we departed the train I let my friends lead the way as I hobbled after them. The going couldn’t have been easier. The Ghibli Museum is a great draw to both Japanese and foreign visitors alike, and the town of Mitaka seems to take great pride in it; the route to the museum was lined with sign posts and even footprints engraved in the sidewalk to show the way.

Ghibli Studios is to Japan what Disney is to the United States, an icon of the country recognized by all ages. The Ghibli Museum is in fact so popular that you have to buy your tickets in advance, and my friends and I had purchased ours before even leaving Hawaii. We arrived a bit after they’d opened and already there was a great crowd of people, adults and children alike although most of them Japanese. After shuffling through the line we exchanged our paper tickets for an official ticket made out of genuine film cuttings from actual Ghibli movies. Su lucked out with a very recognizable scene from Spirited Away. Ticked tucked safely away, we made our way through the museum.

One of the biggest disappointments to me was the fact that you’re not allowed to take photos inside the museum. My inner photographer wouldn’t shut up as we went from room to room, marveling at the exhibits. (The second biggest disappointment, of course, is that only children are allowed to play on the giant Catbus.) It’s difficult to describe what I even saw there, like a secret only visitors share, and truly that was the intention of the museum creators. The museum is a maze of rooms filled with original art and interactive displays, connected by child sized doorways and narrow spiral staircases. (At one point we even mistook the restroom for an exhibit because it was so richly decorated.)

We waited in line at the Straw Hat Cafe, where menu items include “Looking up at a Clear Blue Sky in the Field Cream Soda”, but the line was so long and slow-moving that we eventually abandoned that plan and headed instead to the roof. A tall spiral staircase led up to the roof garden, where children posed for photo ops in front of a giant metal statue. This was one of the few places where photography was allowed. Once we could no longer stand the cold, we made our way back inside. A dome-shaped room on the ground level of the museum housed the theater, with a giant screen stretched along one wall and cushioned benches staggered along the sloped floor. My friends and I rushed toward the front, then quickly realized we were surrounded by children, and hunched down in our seats so as not to block the view. Small oval windows were mechanically shuttered to darken the room as the film came on. It was strictly Japanese, no subtitles, but the animation was so beautiful and the story so imaginative that dialogue was unnecessary. Our last stop was in the museum gift shop, crammed just as much with people as it was with souvenirs, to the point where at every step I feared knocking something (or someone) over.

Words can’t do the museum justice; go there, even if you aren’t an anime fan, go there and see for yourself.

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