It looks like it’ll be another cool and cloudy day in Tokyo today. There wasn’t any sign of rain when I woke up this morning, so hopefully it’ll be a dry day for our excursion into Saitama.
Breakfast this morning consisted of a choco coronet that I bought yesterday in Nakano along with some coffee in a can from the vending machine. Jiji decided to join me as well this morning and he enjoyed looking out the window at the commuters going to and from the train station.
Speaking of Jiji, he decided to come home with me after I saw him at the gift shop at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. It was a bit of a journey to get out there, but it was well worth it.
The rain made the trip a bit more interesting, though it wasn’t a very strong rain today. Nothing seemed affected by the presence of falling water, and everyone pretty much went about their normal business (just while carrying umbrellas). It also didn’t appear that the drivers were terribly phased either, unlike some other places I’ve been.
The other interesting thing I noticed is that there’s an infrastructure to deal with all the things that come with inclement weather. Most shops, restaurants, and businesses have some sort of way of dealing with wet umbrellas. Smaller places like convenience stores will have a rack outside for people to put their umbrellas in while larger businesses like department stores, shopping centers, and high traffic areas will have bags for people to put them in and carry around.
On the way, we made a quick stop in Nakano to visit one of the various bakeries in the shopping center next to the station. I picked up some melon bread (melonpan), curry bread (karepan), and a chocolate filled bun (choco coronet). I’d never had fresh melonpan before, so it was nice to finally bite into some. It’ll be interesting trying to incorporate some of what I learned into the bread that I make. The karepan was especially delicious as well, and I might need to track down a recipe for it.
Mitaka is about 30 minutes outside of Tokyo on the JR train and is a far cry from the busy streets of the big city. It’s more of a suburb with narrow streets and smaller buildings. From the station, we took a special shuttle bus to the museum. Fittingly, it was decorated with a Ghibli-themed livery complete with Totoro on the front.
Tickets cost 300 yen round trip and was about a 5 minute ride to the entrance of the museum. Even out in the suburbs, the Japanese really like to cram people onto public transport. The driver kept asking us to move back so that more people could fit on. It’s really no wonder that there are “beware of pervert” signs in many public places and that there are “women only” cars on the subways and trains.
When we arrived at the museum, it was still a few minutes before we were allowed in. Apparently tickets sold in Japan have an entry time listed on them, and admission only happens at certain intervals. Since our tickets were purchased outside of Japan, we didn’t have a specific time to go in. We spent a little time checking out the outside of the building and even came across Totoro.
Since it was starting to rain again, we headed back to the entrance and waited for our turn to go in. There were a lot of people waiting to go in, as well as a lot of foreign tourists. We heard a smattering of languages, from Chinese to French to English. It’s pretty amazing the wide reach Ghibli has around the world.
Once it was finally our turn to go in, I saw a rather disappointing sign. Among eating, drinking, smoking, and talking on cell phones, photography was also strictly forbidden inside the building. Fortunately, this didn’t seem to extend to the outdoor areas, which meant a couple really cool shots of the outer gardens. ^.^
The museum itself is actually pretty small, but there was an extremely high density of content. The museum’s motto was “Let’s get lost together,” which is extremely fitting for the world of Ghibli and there were plenty of nice touches. One of my favorites was a small caged spiral staircase that went up the center of the museum. The taller folks had to duck to use it, but it was a fun way to get to the top floor. The rotating exhibit at the moment was for Ponyo, and featured sculptures, behinds the scenes displays, and a lot of original artwork on display.
The other main exhibit area contained what looked like recreations of Hayao Miyazaki’s personal studio. There were several desks featuring different stages of his career, from his early days at Ghibli to his more recent works. The walls were covered with tons of sketches, water colors, and concept drawings for the titles he created. I was a particular fan of the Nausicaa and Kiki drawings, and was wondering if they’d notice that a couple went missing… ^.^;;
One of the particularly neat things that I noticed at each iteration was some sort of storage for used color pencils. Once they got down to about 2 inches long, he discarded them into a box or jar. The sheer number he went through was staggering, and each jar was easily gallon sized or bigger. There was also a small collection of wine and liquor bottles at each stage, including some pretty neat themed bottles. On the shelf at one desk was a “Toy Story” themed bottle with a couple signatures on it. There was also one featuring Nemo from “Finding Nemo.” I know that many folks in the industry look up to him, and these must have been gifts from John Lasseter or other folks at Pixar.
Moving on from the studio, there were a couple of displays on early Ghibli projects (many of which I didn’t recognize). There was also a recreation of the cat bus used in Totoro for kids to climb on and play in. Although I’m not very tall, I doubt I would have passed for a child, which was a real shame…
After the cat bus room, we found the door and stairwell to the rooftop garden. Featuring a few sculptures of things from Laputa, I couldn’t help but pose for a picture.
There wasn’t too much else up there, so we headed down after getting some more photos of the area. Back downstairs, we browsed a couple more exhibits, including a stop animation room. There was also a theater that showed a short original film that was produced specifically for the museum. It was in Japanese without subtitles, so I didn’t quite understand it all. From what I can tell, it was about a boy who had run away from home and came across a pair of vendors that sold him a seed for growing a planet. It was a very sweet and innocent story, in the way that only Ghibli can tell. ^.^
After the film, we made our way back to the station to head towards Shinjuku. We stopped in Nakano again on the way to pick up some Taiyaki and do a little shopping at Nakano Broadway. There was a shop we’d found that sold some non-traditional anime collectables and wanted to pick up a few more. Most people collect things like figures and posters, but this particular shop specializes in animation cels, original scripts, production notes, and original concept artwork. Some of the items are photocopies that were given to the people working in the studio (like the voice actors and recording directors), but some of them are the original pamphlets containing notes from the director or producer. They’re truly one of a kind items and aren’t terribly expensive either (about 1000 yen for a episode’s notes).
After spending far too much money (we have a tendency to do that) and annoying the shopkeepers since we kept finding new things after walking out, it was time to get back to Shinjuku. By this time, we were pretty tired from all the walking, so we settled down to relax for a little bit. It was then off to get dinner at a restaurant our guide recommended. It was about half an hour away by subway and featured another distinctly Japanese food called Okonomiyaki.
I’ve seen it plenty of times in pictures an anime, but never actually had it myself. Each table has a hotplate on it and you order bowls of ingredients that you make yourself. The traditional okonomiyaki is vegetables, meats, and seasonings cooked into a batter on the table.
It doesn’t look like a lot of food, but once we got cooking and eating, it really filled us up. Having beer to go with it probably contributed, but we were all content once we finished eating. It was quite a bit of food and pretty much was ready to pass out when we got back to the hotel.
Up next, a trip to Saitama to visit the Washinomiya Shrine!