A visit to Spirited Away creator's museum in Japan


(In July, I went on a family vacation to Japan. Here are my posts about the trip: Watermelons in the shape of cubes, hearts, and pyramids | What happened to the Burgie Beer UFO of Melrose Avenue?)

A couple of days after we arrived in Tokyo, we visited the Ghibli Museum. It's in a suburb of Tokyo (we had to take a train and then a bus to get there) and was designed by the famous animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Kiki's Delivery Service). The museums has exhibits about animation and Miyazaki's movies.

The museum isn't very large, but it's beautiful and packed with lots of interesting hands-on exhibits. Unfortunately, photography of the inside of the museum is not permitted. I did sneak one photo of a recreation of an animator's office: Ghibli-Museum07

Interestingly, none of the stuff was nailed or glued down, and you could walk all around the exhibit. Some people were even picking up the props and handling them. I can't imagine a museum like this in the United States -- there would have been a glass wall to keep visitors from pilfering all the cool books, toys, props, and tools in the exhibits.

More photos and remarks after the jump.

Our tour guide led our family and about 10 other English speakers through the museum. She was very nice and a big Miyazaki fan.


She explained the significance of the emblem on the gate, but I forget what it is.


My favorite part of the museum was a 3D zoetrope of the characters from My Neighbor Totoro. It consists of a bunch of painted clay figurines arranged on a turntable. Each figure is slightly different from the one next to is, and when the table is rotated and illuminated with a strobe light, the resulting animation is magical - the figurines come alive.

You can watch a few videos of the Ghibli zoetrope on YouTube, but they aren't very clear. This Toy Story Pixar zoetrope is identical to the Ghibli zoetrope (except for the characters), and is much clearer:

This was some kind of monument with runes cuneiform stamped into it. I assume it's from a Ghibli movie I haven't seen.



The exterior of the building. It's not apparent here, but parts of it had a Gaudí vibe.



Sorry for the glare, but here's a giant Totoro and some dust motes near the entrance to the building. Ghibli-Museum05

Note the pump bottle of hand sterilizer in the photo below. I saw these all over Japan. They are concerned about the spread of bird flu. Jugs of hand sterilizer were much easier to find in Japan than public trash cans. Japan has launched a "take your garbage home" initiative, which means you are supposed to carry food wrappers and water bottles with you until you get home. Ghibli-Museum04


  1. I spent three weeks in Japan in June, but didn’t get the chance to visit studio Ghibli. I think any boingboing reader would really appreciate Japan and should make it a point to visit!

    P.S. I don’t know if this is allowed, but I’d like to post a link to some images and words concerning my trip if anyone is interested. The thread I’m posting is pretty unbiased in every way.


  2. I have wanted to go there forever, and on my one trip to Japan I didn’t have a moment of free time.

    Those lucky enough to have seen the Pixar zoetrope at MOMA (or at California Adventure, where it lives now) will certainly remember it as I do: the hypnotic highlight of the whole show. And it wouldn’t even exist if John Lasseter hadn’t seen the one at the Ghibli Museum.

  3. FYI
    regarding the monument pictured above (just below the Pixar Zoetrope video), those are not runes they are cuneiform. (Two different writing systems from different times and cultures)

  4. You are such an awesome Dad! Man I would have LOVED to have gone on a trip like that when I was a kid! Sounds like it was a lot of fun!

  5. The “monument” from the film you haven’t seen is a replica of the control dais from the titular flying castle in Castle in the Sky. One of my favorites of Miyazaki’s work. Very steampunk.

  6. (And Castle in the Sky is the same movie that the giant robot statue in the first photo came from, come to think of it.)

  7. The Cube is, like the robot, from Laputa, Castle in the Sky. The crest is made from scenes from three movies: My Neighbor Totoro on the bottom, Princess Mononoke on the upper right, and, uh, I don’t know the other. Hope that you enjoyed it as much as I and mine did.

  8. Didn’t he also do Naussica, Valley of the Wind? If so, an Ohm Sculpture would be truly epic. Never had any idea that this existed. I’m going to have to take my daughter to Japan now.

    As for the Emblem under the gate, the bottom part looks like Totoro under the Camphor tree. Not sure about the other parts.

    Oh, and I sure hope you got to ride a real duodecapodal cat bus to get there!

    1. Of course! The boars, or perhaps Okkoto, himself, is on the sheild for protection…?
      It could happen.

  9. I remember the bathrooms having amazing art inside them as well. There was even a fake painted view of a nice valley on the bathroom wall.

  10. japanese don’t usually chain people off from things because their is not much stealing like there is in America.

    you typed PONZO I believe you meant Ponyo.

    Laputa is the film that the giant robot and the cube came from. Also called Castle in the Sky in America.

    The bird flu is no longer a threat in Japan the bottles are there because of the more recent threat of Swine Flu.

    you’re not much of a fan i believe?

  11. Visiting the Ghibli Museum is one of my favorite memories from my trip to Japan. The place is just so beautiful inside, handcrafted and charming, with hidden doors and lovely details everywhere. It’s unabashedly made for kids, with secret staircases for children to take.

    The museum also has its own movie theatre that shows short Ghibli films created especially for it, which have never been released or shown anywhere else, including a short sequel to Totoro!

  12. everyone should no that the ghibli museum usually requires a reservation, so make sure you get one if you want to visit.

  13. Love the Ghibli Museum, I used to work quite near there, in Kichijoji. It’s a really nice area of the city, lots of artsy shops and cafes. I hope you got the chance to explore a bit.

    As someone else noted, the hand sanitizer is for the swine flu, or “shingata influenza”, not the bird flu. Before swine flu hit, hand sanitizer was actually impossible to find. I was always getting sick while working with kids and just wanted a bottle of the stuff for my purse, but unless it was cold season, no dice. Then once swine flu hit, you couldn’t go anywhere without someone squirting the stuff on your hands before you entered a shop. The sanitizer spread more quickly than the virus!

  14. I’ve always been a huge fan/interest in Japan and Japanese culture thanks to my dad who lived in Japan after WWII working for the U.S. Government.

    Miyazaki is my favorite director, period. This is an awesome post Mark.

  15. I went last July 18th (Did everybody here went that month? UÔ_ô) and my favorite parts were the drawing rooms and the animation chamber. Also loved the funny soda bottles with glas marbles inside (I saw them also in Asakusa) and Nausicaa´s Rifle for sale for only 990.000 Yens.

    I was short of spare change so I could not buy it…

    Maybe next time. Those damn Oms keep raiding my village asking for someone called Daikaisho or something like that…

  16. Really nice photos! After so many years I still gotta find time to get on the Chuosen and visit the “Museo D’arte Ghibli”!

    “take your garbage home” = I think this is joke of your guide…

  17. The Ghibl Museum is awesome. Although I still say that it’s a horrible injustice that adults are not allowed to play on the life-sized Cat Bus. I understand the logic, but they could at least clear the kids out for one 1/2hr block per day to let adults on. I want a giant plush Cat Bus, dammit!

  18. On the gate heraldry, the explanation of the 3 hawks is probably correct, but if you look closely the birds are not hawks but the “bird steeds” from Naushika. They don’t make much of an appearance in the movie, but play a more important role in the manga version.

    BTW, the manga was written and published before the move in order to drum up interest and funding for the movie. The movie is just a small piece of a much bigger story arc only found in the manga. The manga is simply amazing, and presents a Naushika in a completely different light with a great focus on the story and less on the giant bug visuals.

    ワイド版 風の谷のナウシカ7巻セット「トルメキア戦役バージョン」

  19. Does the term Ghibli refer to the hot, dusty wind that descends from the highlands of Libya toward the Mediterranean Sea? I could find no mention of it on their site, but there seems to be a movie based on wind and there are a couple of comments that would make it quite an interesting coincidence. There’s a beautiful scene in the movie “The English Patient” that references the Ghibli.

  20. I was so fortunate that my tour included a visit to the Museum. Every single thing was a delight for this anime fanboy,but the highlight was the short film shown in the movie theatre. I was so taken with it I wrote an entry in Atlas Obscura: http://atlasobscura.com/place/ghibli-museum

    P.S. Heh,the CAPTCHA says “sumo success”

  21. Note that the museum location is not casual: a lot of animation studios were historically based in that area, and most of them are still there (despite spiralling real estate costs).

    The Ghibli Museum is simply a must-see for anyone visiting Japan for so many reasons; it’s well worth the detour from central Tokyo, and if you have kids they’ll absolutely love it.

    Ahh, Japan, the memories. I remember walking through Kyoto railway station, turning a corner and lo, there was a brass band playing Lupin III songs. Turn another corner and lo, an exhibit on Osamu Tezuka. What a wonderful place.

  22. Mark (lovely family!) or others who’ve been there,

    Did you see the short sequel film for Totoro, “Mei and the Kitten Bus?” Can you tell us about it?

    A lifetime dream of my family to see that. And, does anyone know where to get DVDs of the Fox version of Totoro? We’ve looked everywhere.

  23. Go at least once a year.

    In 2001 – the upstairs by the Laputa robot was pretty spare.
    In 2003 – the museum did a tribute to Pixar and recreated the Tiki Room hideout one of the animators created in a large crawlspace.
    They’ve also done shows on Aardman Animation – the folks who gave us Wallace and Gromit.

    And photos of the Spectro-Zoetrope are not permitted for fear of it being damaged by flash photography.

    By the way – the robot is an theme we saw first in the Lupin the 3rd TV series finale called “Aloha Lupin!” which was a tribute to the Fleischer Studios Superman “Mechanical Monsters”

    The robot resurfaced in “Nausicaa” as the giant God Machine. And lastly in “Laputa – the Castle in the Sky” as the guardians of the flying island.

  24. The robot also makes a guest appearance in the Batman: the Animated Series episode Deep Freeze.

  25. I really, really want to go there, just for the giant robot,Nausicaa and Laputa: Castle in the sky are both brilliant!

  26. seeing the giant totoro brings back such fond memories, before ghibli because ‘the guy that made PON-YOH’ <-- ugh! to date kiki's has a special place in my heart~

  27. After I visited the museum in 2003, I put my photos and impressions online here: http://japan.fjordaan.net/03_ghibli.html

    On that page I have included Miyazaki’s mission statement for the museum — “This Is the Kind of Museum I Want to Make!” — which is well worth reading. Also an extract from an essay by fellow Ghibli founder Isao Takahata, which I’ll paste in here:

    “A museum, not a theme park

    This is why what you wanted to create is a museum, not a theme park. A theme park, like Disneyland for example, puts you into the rides and leads you on, like a Miyazaki animated film, and excites or intoxicates you. It is easy and comfortable, and everyone is passive. However, this is not so in this Museum.

    […] It is a real place, which serves a real purpose. The building itself is the main exhibit, disguised as a container. Because of that, when the visitors encounter the building, their curiousity and interest in searching out its treasures are aroused, and they are amazed by what they find.”

    I went again in 2005 — http://www.flickr.com/photos/fjordaan/tags/ghiblimuseum/ — and will go again when my daughters are old enough. (Probably 4 or 5 years from now.)

  28. I’m surprised you did not mention that he was the creator of Princess Mononoke. Now that was an awesome film.

  29. They’ve been running Ghibli films every Sunday this month since everybody’s psyched up for Karikurashi!! You can take your kids this week Mark, if you don’t mind the absence of subtitles!

  30. I’ve been to the Ghibli Museum a couple times so if you’re planning to go visit, you need to acquire your tickets in advance: You’ll need your passport number & date that you will be going there. Once you are there, it is probably too late for you to get tickets. Japanese locals are able to purchase tickets via Lawson convenience store kiosks, but I doubt you can get same-day tickets.

    There is a no-photographing policy inside the premises. Well… don’t get caught!

    The short films they show are cycled through some kinda schedule. The first time I was there, we were lucky to catch “Mei and the Kittenbus” They were also selling a picturebook of that short film at the time.

    Here’s the film schedule: http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/welcome/cinema
    “Mei and the Kittenbus” is playing right now until the end of the month, as well as 9/16-9/30 and 11/1-11/8. You may want to schedule your visit for those dates if you are a Totoro fan.

  31. the ruins that said you dont know what movie they are from are from the movie Laputa: Castle in the sky. the robot where you have your family picture taken is also from that movie.. as is the little black box thing. it is a good movie, i recommend watching it.

  32. When I went, the short film was “The Day I Harvested a Star”, which was a lovely Miyazaki short about a boy who trades his giant turnips to a strange frog and mole for a tiny magic seed, which he plants in a pot and which grows into a miniature planet. It was in Japanese with no subtitles, but it was still beautiful.

  33. Great entry! :D I’m in Japan now, and unfortunately all the tickets for the museum have been sold out (until my departure date), so i’m glad to have gotten some of the feel of what it may have been like… Thank you xD

  34. RE: Ghibli crest symbolism – it’s all about the location. I lived in the area and attended a local university from September 2008 – June 2009, and more than one person told me about this.
    The three hawks are shown because of the museum’s location in Mitaka-shi (that’s 三鷹市, “three hawk city”, the area of western Tokyo where the museum is).
    The boar refers to the museum’s location in Inokashira kouen (that’s 井の頭公園, “Boar’s head park”; note also the Katakana “I” in the top left of the boar panel).
    The tree denotes the museum’s location in the area Mitaka-no-mori (that’s 三鷹の森, “Mitaka forest”).
    Incidentally, anyone planning a trip to the Ghibli Museum would be very well advised to visit the rest of Inokashira park as well, it’s very beautiful and full of life and local colour.

    (bonus lols: the museum appears on some maps as “Mitaka Municipal Animation Museum”)

  35. I definitely agree about adults not being allowed on the cat bus (I think it’s called naku basu in japanese)…I was distraught about not being allowed on (ok, maybe distraught is an exaggeration), but it was difficult watching all the little kids jumping around and not being allowed to have my own time bouncing around the catbus :P

    I was up on Mt. Mitake outside of Japan last year. I was walking down a road high up on the mountain, appreciating the amazing view of the mountains surrounding. The local fellow that was walking with me pointed to a hill right across from mine and told me that it was where Miyazaki had lived as a child for some time and it is rumoured that the woods on that mountain are Totoro’s forest. :) It was a magical moment for such a ghibli and totoro fan as me :D (and Mt. Mitake has flying squirrels!!! Nausicaa anyone?)

    PS – the fastest way to make friends in Japan is to stand on a bus, smile mischievously and say ‘naku basu’ – it makes people giggle and ask if you like Totoro!

  36. neko bus = cat bus. Miyazaki’s movies make the world a better place! I hope to go to the Ghibli Museum someday. Thanks for sharing this.

  37. My wife and I went here about 5 years ago. One of the reasons we had kids is so we could bring them here some day.

  38. I was just at the Ghibli museum on July 31st, and it was one of the highlights of my trip to Tokyo! I grabbed a souvenir for one of my friends, a keychain figure of a little green sitting man… I’d seen a figure of it in the “office” room in the museum. My friend is a big Ghibli fan, so I figured he’d know what it was from, but he doesn’t recognize it! Anyone know what film it is from, or what the significance of it is? thanks!

Comments are closed.