I arrive on a groggy wet Japanese morning to Mitaka station, in the suburbs of Tokyo. Making my way out into the car park, I wander around for a while, trying to find the right place to pick up the bus. Finally I join a group of about 15 Japanese, quietly gathered under the barely shelter of a small, unassuming bus stop. I show my ticket, point and bow politely. (I’ve been in Japan almost two weeks at this stage and I know that this is how you work the tourist angle – point and bow, bitch, point and bow)
A look of confusion. I point at the ticket, point at the bus stop and bow politely “Ghibli. Studio Ghibli.”
“Oh, Jib-ru-li,” one man corrects me, “Hai, hai.”
I guess I’m in the right spot…
Studio Ghibli (pronounced Jib-ru-li in Japan, it would seem) is arguably the most exciting and original animation studio in the world (and for those not in the know, shame on you). Films such as Spirited Away, Howls Moving Castle, My Neighbour Totoro and (my personal favorite) Princess Mononoke, are just a few produced by the studio, and some of the greatest animated films of all time.
Set up by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in 1985 after the success of the film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki and Takahata drew on their many years of animation experience but also tried to inject a social morality into their films.
Miyazaki’s films, in particular, have always managed to present worlds, often thinly veiled under the veneer of our reality, which maintain a childlike dreamish magical nature. I would also recommend, for any who have not seen it, Takahata’s 1988 Grave of Fireflies, a moving drama which presents, as good as any live action film ever will, a rarely seen view of the suffering and poverty that many experienced in a post World War II Japan.
Three Americans have loudly joined the group by the time the bus arrives. Being the only other gaijin, I’m kind of embarrassed of the Americans who, unbeknownst to themselves, are being very rude (at least by Japanese standards). I keep to myself on the bus as it winds through the suburban streets.
The Ghibli Museum opened in October of 2001. Designed by Miyazaki himself, the entire building was designed from the ground up through sketches and drawings. It resembles, architecturally, many of the castles and architectures of Miyazaki’s films with a healthy mix of European and Japanese influences. The motto of the museum is “Let’s become lost children together” (迷子になろうよ、いっしょに Maigo ni narō yo, isshoni )
“Whadayamean you have to purchase tickets in advance?” bellows the father of our American party as I depart the bus.
“Velly sorry. Velly sorry. Purchase tickets only. Purchase tickets only.”
The mother of the party gives me a dirty look as I pass. I feel quite bad, actually. Despite their lack of knowledge of Japanese etiquette I have to admire anyone who can find this museum, it’s not easy to find. And tickets are hard to come by. They are usually sold out months in advance and very limited for people outside of Japan. As well as this, the websites provided for the purchase of tickets for us foreigners are dubious at best. They definitely aren’t presented with the professional veneer of most museum booking sites and made me quite nervous about booking my tickets on them.
The bottom floor of the museum explores the history and science of animation with the Miyazaki mix of magic and Victorian invention. As well as a short animated film on the history of life from single cell organisms right up to modern day man (which runs through many sprockets and mini projectors around the room) the centerpiece is a fantastic three dimensional zeotrope, which explains fantastically persistence of vision.
The central hall of the building is like a cross between medievil European, traditional and modern Japanese and an Escher painting. Little alcoves lead to littler alcoves which again lead to a tiny rooms which only a young child can enter with a small seat for him/her to sit on. The hall uses forced perspective to give the strange feeling that it is warped and an actual living, breathing space (much in the same way as, for example, Howells Moving Castle does in the film.)
Inside a small cinema, modeled to look like a steam-punk ship interior, I get to see Water Spider Momon. This exclusive presentation to the Museum is a short film and love story about two pond-scaters dancing and falling in love on a small pond. It does not scrimp and save on the fantastic imagery, animation and magic of Ghibli.
For lunch there are two options. The aforementioned cafe has quite a long queue so I reluctantly decide to avoid it. Just another beautiful little touch is that seating (and shade) are provided for those waiting; and a small library of story and picture books for kids to read while they wait. I go for the second option which has the decidedly Japanese menu of hot dogs, dumplings, tea, juice, beer or ice cream.
The second floor of the museum contains a special exhibition as well as some fantastic rooms to explore. The rooms are as if the study of mad professor or somewhat witch or wizard. They are fantastically messy, with strewn sketches, maps and books filled with writings and studies. Throughout the rooms one finds thrown-together machines which look like they are about to fall apart at any second, churning and chugging and clanking and clogging, all marvellously Rube-Goldbergesquely achieving nothing.
The museum has two shops; one for trinkets, DVDs, stuffed Totoro toys of every shape and size, etc; and one which sells only books. Of all the museums I have ever visited the book shop in the Ghibli museum ranks one of the highest. I have never seen a collection of art books the likes of this before or since. Not only do they contain (sometimes two or three per movie) making of the movie art books for all of the Ghibili films, but also books on matte paintings, scenery, animation, landscape, castles and many, many other subjects. Many of these books seemed exclusive to the museum (I certainly haven’t seen many of the titles before or since) and I bought as many of them as my wallet would allow me (I ended up having to post them home at great expense)
They don’t allow you take photographs inside the museum itself (which I respect. One can find pictures of some of the displays if they look carefully on the internet but I would advise against it, it’s much more magical to discover it for the first time yourself) but they do allow you to take pictures outside the building in the surrounding gardens.
The gardens around the museum stretch from the well and courtyard down below to the roof garden above (which houses the guardian of the museum, who you may recognise from Castle in the Sky)It is, unfortunately, a little rainy on the day I visit to enjoy them fully but they offer a fantastic contribution to the overall feel of the place.
I’ve used the words magic far too often in this piece but I really can’t think of any better words to describe the Ghibli Museum. The magic that the museum possesses isn’t the same as that of the Disney parks or a natural history museum or science museum or an art gallery, it is one which exists hidden under the surface, one which needs the spark of imagination to ignite. There is always the feeling that the magic is hidden; behind the steam in kitchens, behind the notebooks and inside the little alcoves of the central hall, briefly and flinchingly always caught in the corner of your eye. And this subtle magic is something that I have never really seen anywhere else before or since.
I highly recommend you discover it for yourself.
For those in search of more information:
– Travelling between Kagoshima and Fukoka in Japan.
– Stopped because of smog, approaching Cairo, Egypt.These people live and make their living on the slow moving trains as they pass.
– Cambridge, heading home to London
– Dublin. Heading home. Resting your head against the window and inevitably falling asleep to the plastic scratches and reflections of others after a long days work.
I’m clearing all this shite out of my room this week cause when I return I’ll most probably be purchasing a house. As always with a big clearout the task becomes a naustalgiafest and I end up spending hours sitting in a pile of dirt and dust and mess and looking through photos I have taken and stuff that I have written since 1992.
Thinking back like this is always a rose tinted affair. Life is always perfect, summers always sunnier. You always remember your shit smelling of butterflies and icecream, lolipops and bullshit.
But this time it’s also getting me excited with anticipation. In three weeks (to this day) I set off on a 5 week trip to Japan, Sydney, Perth and Hong Kong.” – Me, Sept 2009
…and so it began. In 2009 I started a blog to follow my adventures as I travelled Japan, Australia and Hong Kong. After I returned I gave up for a while but decided to take it up again last year and used it as an outlet and excuse for my burgeoning career as a full time spare time amateur photographer.
In honour of my 200th post. Here are my personal top 10 blog posts:
There is a warped majesty to the role of the Geisha in Japan; a bent honor. Sometimes considered an honored courtisan though sometimes there seems a feeling that seedier deeds are afoot, the Geisha of Kyoto, their home base of Pontocho, are masterful in their secrecy. They avoid the stare of the hunting public, dipping in and out of the tiny Pontocho sidestreets.
A freshly bought camera in hand, I spent one late evening stalking their shadows through the streets of Kyoto.
When you answer the house phone at this time of the day on a weekday and get this long a silence it can only mean one thing; that douchey Indian “PC repair” phone scam lot are calling again…
Some people get angry at call centre scams… I just get even…
There was no way of me knowing that within a month of me leaving Egypt in December of 2010, the Arab Spring uprising would have millions take to the streets and Tahir Square to rise up against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but on my last day in Cairo I witnessed, from my hotel balcony, a protest taking place against the results of an election that had happened just a week ago. A snapshot of Egypt as it lightly tore at it seams, ready to burst a month later…
I see this bargain bin as I’m making my way to the peace memorial in Hiroshima. 300 Yen is about Euro 3.75 so I set myself a challenge, to pick out the best worst 5 CD’s that I could find in the bin. Competition was high but eventually I managed to wittle it down to these few choices.
In May of 1935 my grandad, in his late 20’s at the time, braved the waters and travelled from Dublin to London to witness the Silver Jubilee celebrations of King George V. The photographs that he took of the event are an amazing snapshot of pre-World War II London. 77 years later I moved to London to live here, strangely marked by the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elisabeth II. I decided to take to the streets to hunt down the locations of my Grandad’s 1935 photographs.
A thick, rolling, rasping voice drags like melodic brick on concrete from the back of his throat. She flicks her hair, sweeps her hips, hiking her skirt, carefully torn fishnet tights, revealing just enough leg to send me to heaven.
The quiet shuffle of the early morning set against an empty pale blue sky. Shopkeepers standing on their purches set against the empty streets of stone and house’ of wood and wash the stoop, first they carefully brush up any litter or leaves before a simple green hose from its constant purch next to the door and then, if needed, any details that need cleaning are tended to individually with a bucket and sponge…
Everyone likes a good carnival, especially if you want some good photos, but, in Notting Hill’s cultureclashed yearly festival the festive plumage of the parade belies a more nihilistic anti-establishment freedom in the backstreets. Despite the strong police presence there is a feeling that if anything did kick off there is little that they actually could do; 11,000 officers and a couple of hundred thousand people in a maze of small streets. We dance on the precipice of anarchy…
A motley crew of international ne’er-do-wells. A Japanese guy; crazy and happy; constantly (maybe?) drunk and with just enough a lack of English for hilarity to ensue. An Australian family with their daughter and her British boyfriend (about to do a stint in the army). A slightly hippieish couple from San Francisco. A very down to earth (are they ever not?) Canadian husband and wife; taking a break from their smalltown internet company to tick off a “must do” from the bucket list. An English guy; aspiring Geography teacher; come to learn a little about what he’ll be teaching. An Argentinian girl, but living in America, with a distinctly Irish name. And of course a geekish Irish mid-to late twentysomething lad with a penchant for the over-imagination. Place them all in Egypt, sailing down the Nile in a traditional felucca sailboat with their happy-go-lucky Egyptian tour guide and a couple of locals to help out and you have the perfect recipe for a horribly awful monster-disaster movie…
By far one of my favorite highlights on my trip to Tokyo was my night in the Tokyo Cavern Club, a 7 days a week Beatles Tribute Bar in Roppongi, dressed in immaculate 60’s vintage style and full to the brim with beaming Japanese fans, the band admitted to not speaking any English so learning the lyrics to Beatles tracks orally. This lead to a fantastically crazy sound…