Art and Noodles

March 21, 2019

Today was going to be special. Deep within the folder of important documents required for this trip lies a single slip of standard computer printer paper with a couple highlighter marks on it. In order to obtain this single slip of paper, I had to call ahead months in advance (1st of December, 2018 to be exact), 10AM JST, right on the dot.

What was this slip of paper for? It was an admission voucher for the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Those who have tried to book reservations to this museum know that only a certain number of people are admitted per day, so tickets are extremely limited and sell out in mere minutes after they go on sale. I consider myself lucky to have gotten two of them for my sister and I.

This wasn’t my first trip to the museum. I visited it last time and it was absolutely spectacular. The Ghibli Museum has one major rule though: no photos of the interior. You have to visit the museum yourself in order to truly experience it. I love this rule, but sadly, I could only really attempt to describe the museum to my sister (who is an artist) with my memories and a little paper fold-out model that they sold in the gift shop. I told her that I would bring her to the real one someday so that we can share the experience together – today was that day.

The morning started off early, like usual. We’re still quite jet lagged, so I decided to grab a container of instant coffee from the kombini last night. I normally have a rule of “1-cup of coffee per day,” but with how messed-up our body-clocks are, that rule went straight out the window. After I finished my serving of extra extra dark coffee, Abbie and I got dressed and headed to Tokyo Station, where we bought even more coffee. ….It’s just so good here.

This time, we arrived to the station a little bit later, around 8AM. There were only a few places open serving quick bites. That’s all we really needed, so we settled for a little cafe within the deep web of underground retail catacombs. The Japanese do in-fact eat breakfast on occasion, but it’s really nothing like the USA where it’s practically an essential staple meal that you eat right after you get up. Japan normally fully “starts” at 10AM, which sometimes makes it tough for westerners to start the day. If you know where to look, however, you can usually find something to munch on in the morning.

In the cafe, I decided to order an iced Americano and get Abbie a chocolate milk, along with a number of little baked goods. I was complemented by the girl running the counter for my ability to order in Japanese. She said it was cute that I knew what to say (aw. >//<). Even if it is a struggle, attempting to speak in Japanese is always appreciated by the locals since it shows that you’re interested in the culture of this island nation where the language isn’t spoken anywhere else. I’m more motivated than ever to keep learning!

Once the order came out, I think something got a little mixed up. Abbie ended up with an Iced Americano, which she exclaimed to be “really” strong. A quick chat with the counter and oh, there’s the cocoa! That’s better. The coffee was brilliantly smooth and delicious. Abbie told me that the chocolate milk was the best she’s ever had. Good stuff.

By now, it was creeping up towards 8:40AM. We needed to be at the Ghibli Museum gates by 10AM sharp. If you miss that time – tough, you’re not getting in. Thankfully, since we were already inside of Tokyo station, it was really easy to flash our rail passes to the counter and hop on the orange Chuo line towards Mitaka. As more and more people began to head to work, the station began to roar to life. Hundreds and hundreds of people coming-and-going to all of the different lines connected to the master JR hallway. I looked around and saw the distinct orange color of the Chuo line upon a time table sign. Looks like there was a train waiting at the station already. Common! Let’s hurry!

As the artfully arranged musical departure warning chimes, Abbie and I step on to the train and take a seat. Mere moments later, the doors close and the train departed. Whew, made it.

Off to Mitaka. The ride from Tokyo Station was only about 30 minutes, even though Mitaka is actually a decent distance away. I always loved how fast and efficient these trains are. They’re a marvel of civil engineering that would simply never work in the USA. A shame for sure, but that’s what makes these train rides special here and now. Lots of Tokyo passed us by through the big train windows and soon:

Mitaka in the morning

The museum was about 15 minutes away and we arrived at 9:20AM. Perfect, we can walk there without any issue and won’t be late. Soon we left behind the busy central metropolitan hub of Mitaka and began our walk through the residential area. There are lots of interesting houses to see here, all tucked away in a clean and quiet neighborhood. Ah, I remember this street. At the end of it, we’ll see a big wall of trees, and to the right of those trees, a sign:

Here lies a wonderful world of whimsical welcoming winsomeness. (“winsomeness” means beauty, I guess. Shut up, I needed another W word). The museum houses room-after-room of stunning artistic demonstrations and animation techniques. Today’s special exhibit was on the various lighting techniques and color choices made to achieve said techniques. There was also a special Ghibli short film screening of 水グモもんもん (Water Spider). Lovely!

Always such a treat

After we exchanged our voucher for our actual film-strip tickets, we congregated in the main lobby and awaited the short film. It’s always such a surreal experience to walk through the Ghibli Museum. Hand-crafted, stunningly intricate detail everywhere. Keep looking at that seemingly mundane wall. Keep staring at it. Longer… Look.. bet you didn’t notice the sea shells and the little painted lizards. Attention to detail is the name of the game here. It’s all so lovely.

The ceiling of The Saturn Theater is painted to look much like the toy room from the movie Spirited Away.

A poster for the short film we watched.

The short was wonderful, of course. There was no dialogue at all, so it was really easy for anybody to appreciate. It was now time to get lost within the museum and wander about to all of the demonstrations. Ornate works are art are everywhere in this building. From the colorful, movie-themed stained-glass windows, all the way down to the marvelously intricate bathroom (real, not just prints!) paintings. This place truly is a treasure and I’m so very glad that I finally have someone that has experienced it with me. To know what it’s really like there.

Abbie and I wandered about the exhibits on each floor, climbing all sorts of different shaped stairways along the way. Ghibli movies are known for both for their love of nature, and for the detailed machinations of machinery, both fantasy and real. The museum makes this self-evident, as beautiful nature scenes and settings are paired with brilliant automata and wonderfully detailed drawings of machinery.

The lighting exhibit was also very special. Genuine animation cels from countless Ghibli movies, all up for display, along with character specifications, color maps, frustum plane charts, paint color walls, coloring techniques. Everything. Each and every cel is hand-crafted and painted on stunning background paintings. Detailed expressions of motion, the illusions of weight, the poise of each character, and all of the wonderful colors that bring the scenes to life. All on display for you to see and to be inspired by. The level of detail per cel was just insane – and you need 24 of these to make one second of film. Wow. Any artist will likely agree with the idea that lighting, and the techniques used to achieve that lighting, make for the most dramatic impact on the mood and aesthetic of your scene. Here, you can witness advanced traditional techniques that I can only describe as “color-magic” paired with expressive and detailed line-art that really puts that sentiment to the test.

Then there is a recreation of Miyazaki’s workshop. Every single wall is filled with original artwork and artistic reference material. From base sketches, to watercolors, to the actual genuine background paintings. There. On the wall. Not protected behind glass or anything, just… there. For you to see with your own eyes. These background paintings are seriously my favorite part about Ghibli movies since they are so stunningly complex and beautiful, yet you often only get to see them for mere moments. Here, you could take as much time as you’d like to sit and stare at them in their true glory. You get to see what these works of art look like in their true color – some of which had been lost or dulled after being photographed for the films. You have to see it for yourself.

Room after room of the original background paintings. All of them simply pinned to the wall behind no glass – they humbly trust that their guests won’t touch or destroy the works. Incredible.

After a few hours of appreciating the artwork, there was one last thing I wanted to visit. The rooftop garden. The forecast for today was predicted to be cold and rainy, which it was for a little while in the morning, but now, it was shaping up to be a beautiful 70°F sunny day. We climbed the bird-cage spiral stairway and… there he is!

Today, I do not stand alone

Last time I was here, there was a brief moment where I sat on a bench at the rear of the rooftop garden, right next to the obelisk from Castle in the Sky, and just appreciated the scenery… alone.

My previous visit

But today, I share the same bench with the person I grew up with. The one who appreciates art in the same way as me. The one that I think should be a part of my own personal Ghibli movie.

The very same bench. I had a feeling I’d be back.

On the rooftop garden

How could we make this day even better? Oh yeah, letting Abbie experience authentic Ramen for the first time.

Needless to say it was divine.

After the long trek home with our stomachs full of ramen and our minds full of inspiration, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the night. The ramen, while incredibly delicious, was super heavy, so we decided to just get a couple onigiri rice balls from the local store along with a couple of snacks to go with it. Yummy and simple. I’m sleepy.

A postcard print of one of my favorite backgrounds. It really captures the special kind of light the sun casts on buildings here in Japan.

Every Ghibli Museum ticket contains original strips of film. Which movies are these from?

A little Totoro pin & a water spider keychain

Posted in Japan 2019.