Today was our Ghibli Museum tour day. We didn’t have to meet til 1pm, so in the morning we took our time getting ready—I even put on makeup! We had some gorgeous boxed donuts from Daimaru dept. store for breakfast. They were not as tasty as they looked!
On our way out of the hotel, we took some more pictures of the lobby and the overpriced restaurant we never ate at.
We headed for Hibiya park to kill time near the hotel where we were to be picked up for the tour.
Hibiya Park was the first European-style park built in Tokyo, so in addition to some more traditional Japanese elements, it has many traditional European touches, like a formal rose garden. Something I just learned on Wikipedia is that the trees in the Dogwood Forest at the park are descended from those sent to Japan by the US in exchange for cherry trees that were planted along the Potomac River. Cool!
The park is also home to a TON of feral cats, and I believe we photographed every single one. If you’re allergic to cats, start scrolling now…
When we got to this part of the park, we stumbled on a huge cache of feral kitties. At first glance there were just a few, but as you stopped to look around, you began to notice dozens in the bushes, sitting on the grass, and wandering around. It was like the back cover of a Highlights magazine!
We needed to grab a bite to eat, but the restaurants at the hotel were too pricey and had long lines, so we just started walking around looking. I was delighted to discover that my old favorite lifestyle store, Muji, had a café on the second floor of the nearby Remm Hibiya Hotel. Even better, it actually had windows, which instantly made it one of my favorite restaurants on the trip. I just loved sitting there looking out on the street below – after two weeks of windowless basement/train station restaurants, this was literally a breath of fresh air.
Its setup reminded me of our LA fave Clementine, cafeteria style with display cases filled with composed salads and casseroles. There was not a lot of English signage and the servers didn’t speak much English, so this was one of the only times on the trip where I had absolutely no idea what most of the food I was looking at was. I just kinda pointed to stuff and hoped for the best. It all turned out to be soooooooo good! I don’t really know what we had, but I think one dish was some kind of braised pork—fabulous!
After lunch we went back to the Ghibli Tour pick-up spot, the Imperial Hotel, to view their 120th anniversary exhibit. This place has an interesting history. It was completely redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1920s into an elaborate Maya Revival Style masterpiece that withstood both WWII and the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which occurred the day after the hotel opened! Unfortunately, it was razed in 1968 and rebuilt in the concrete bunker style so popular at the time.
However, the façade and pool were preserved and placed in Meiji-Mura, an outdoor museum in Nagoya that contains 60+ buildings and parts of buildings from Japan’s Meiji period of modernization. (Another interesting fact: The museum was founded by one of the workers who made tiles for the Frank Lloyd Wright building.)
When we learned this, we briefly considered day-tripping down there on our last day to see the façade, but then Google showed us that it’s another 2-hour, $$ bullet train ride away from Tokyo—dang!
Portions of the hotel’s Old Imperial Bar have been retained in the new hotel, so we went upstairs for a peek.
Finally it was getting close to pick-up time for the tour, so we plopped down in some chairs to wait within view of the entrance. As I think I’ve mentioned, we decided to pay for a tour out to the Ghibli Museum because we’d heard that getting out there was a little more complicated than just hopping a train, and we wanted someone who could interpret stuff for us since the museum doesn’t offer English translations for the displays. There’s also something complicated about buying tickets—they’re dated and limited or only available at certain convenience stores or something. I can’t remember. But buying a tour and tickets in advance through trusty old Viator.com just seemed like a good idea.
It looked like less of a good idea when, 10 minutes after the pickup time, no one had shown up to collect us. The way these Viator tours work is, the bus has a scheduled pickup at a bunch of local hotels, and you pick the one that’s most convenient for you to meet the bus. I started trying to call Sunrise Tours, the local operator of the tour, as we headed out front to wait, but finally a couple of harried-looking guides appeared and directed us toward the motor coach.
So the tour was a little funny at first. This big motor coach full of other tourists picked us up, stopped at one other hotel, and then swung around the block, where we all got booted off it at a bus station.
What we saw on our 10-minute bus ride:
At the bus station, we went to a general Sunrise Tours holding area and were all sorted out and directed to different windows, where we got our tour documents and joined a much smaller group of people who were headed for the Ghibli Museum. I don’t understand why, if they can charter a motor coach to bring everyone to the bus station, they can’t keep it to actually take us to the museum instead of making us take public transportation together. But it was a small tour of 15 people, so maybe it’s not worth their while.
Our guide led us onto a train back to Tokyo Station (where Patrick and I could just as well have met them rather than take the subway to the Imperial Hotel, then ride a motorcoach to a bus station!). She then switched us to another train out to the suburb where the Ghibli Museum is, Mitaka. Once we got to that station, we took a Ghibli-themed local bus to the museum. Our guide had all the tickets we needed—we just followed her around.
Of course I freaked out when we got to the “ticket booth”…
Our tour guide was a gem! You could tell she genuinely loved Miyazaki’s movies and was quite familiar with them. She spent an hour taking us to each area of the museum and explaining it, because the signs are not in English. Really, I dunno how we could have done it without her! I mean, we could have, but it would have been a big hassle, and we would have gotten much less out of the museum. As it is, I’m sorry I hadn’t seen more Miyazaki films before we went, because now that we’ve done the complete marathon (well, OK, we didn’t make it all the way through My Neighbors the Yamadas” I realize how much I missed at the Ghibli Museum!
Now here’s the bad part: This amazing, fantastical place doesn’t allow photos! I’m not sure if it’s a practical thing to save the art from camera flashes or if it’s a philosophical decision to make guests more contemplative of what they’re seeing, but I think it stinks! So instead I’ve taken some crummy photos of the photos in the souvenir book we were forced to buy because they don’t allow photos.
The museum is sort of Disney-like in that the building is themed and the exhibits are almost walk-through attractions. You enter on an upper level, and the “ticket” they give you is a small strip of film from one of Studio Ghibli’s movies! The gift shop even sells a little magnifying viewer that you can put your film strip in for a closer look.
There are beautiful stained-glass windows in the entryway, and the gift shop sells nifty card versions with colored plastic inserts that light shines through. I’ll have to take a picture of ours for you at some point…
After you get your ticket, you go down a flight of stairs and around the corner to the main hall.
The first room we went in was most like a traditional museum. Our guide took us to each one and explained anything that needed explaining or pointed out fun little things we might have overlooked.
This is the zoetrope that inspired our Pixar zoetrope at Disney California Adventure!
The next level up holds re-creations of the animators’ studios that are so meticulously detailed, you could spend hours absorbing everything. There are no railings or ropes either, so you can get really close (but I’m pretty sure you’re not s’posed to touch anything!).
On the top floor is a GINORMOUS stuffed Cat Bus that you can climb on. Well, YOU can’t climb on it—my biggest disappointment of the day was learning that adults aren’t allowed to play on it—boo!
To the left of Cat Bus in that picture is a doorway on an exterior staircase that takes you to the roof. It was choked with screaming, running children, so we had to battle our way to the top.
There’s a garden on the roof, guarded by one of the robots from Castle in the Sky.
There’s a cute little café attached to the main building, but it was so crowded that they’d shut the doors until enough people left. Dang!
We were given just under an hour of free time after our guide had taken us through the entire museum, so after seeing the roof and outside, we dashed downstairs to the theater to catch the short film. These change all the time—when we were there, it was one about mouse sumo wrestlers—pretty funny!
Then we dashed back upstairs to the gift shop. It was a MADhouse! It was worse than any store at Disney because it’s so small that people were pushing and shoving just to see the merchandise. And there wasn’t that much good stuff—hardly any plush, much less than I’d seen at Tokyo toy stores, and not a lot of really nice stuff to invest in. I made Patrick stand in line while I snatched up anything I could reach. We got a few of the cards that look like the stained glass windows in the lobby and… a little magnet of pink Totoro… a few viewers for the film-strip tickets… and of course the book of pictures because they wouldn’t let us take any of our own… Yet somehow we managed to spend $70 – yikes!
At the end of the tour, our guide led us to a different bus stop for the ride back to the station.
At the station, she talked to each of us to find out where we wanted to go, bought our tickets, and told us how to get there. She was wonderful! We decided to ask her how to get to Akihabara, the electronics and anime center of Tokyo, and she even recommended a particular store to check out.
This was our least-well-planned foray into Tokyo, so there was a lot of wandering up and down streets and endlessly rotating the map and standing on street corners scratching our heads. It was just like those montages in the movies where the characters walk in place as floating neon signs flash by and they stare up, mouths agape.
Basically, we were looking for the mothership from whence come all the fabulous anime trinkets and plush we buy at the Japan Pavilion at Epcot and in the various Japanese pockets of L.A. Unfortunately, it seems to be more of a network of cells than a mothership. We eventually discovered a building just outside the train station that had something like 6 or 7 floors packed with different shops, where we eagerly picked up several bazillion knickknacks.
The last place was cool—they sold nothing but opened blind-box toys. So if you were looking for a particular toy to complete a series or only liked one in a series, all you had to do was find it among these racks…
Finally we shopped ourselves out and went off in search of dinner. We found an office tower with a giant cow logo on it and thought that’d be a good place to start. There were restaurants on 7 floors, and I think they were all owned by the same company (The Giant Cow, perhaps?). We picked the family-style restaurant on a non-smoking floor. I think it’s supposed to be kinda like Sizzler. Our waitress was SO nice, but in a more casual “What can I getcha, hon?” way that we hadn’t seen yet in Japan. Also, she told me my Japanese was good, so I got to practice the little line Pimsleur teaches you about how it’s really not that good.
It almost felt like we could have wandered into any mid-priced family-style restaurant in the world, except for the neon view of Akhiabara from our table. It was just nice!
We ordered a plate to split that we thought from the picture would have a small steak and a gravy-smothered potato. It turned out to be steak served with Salisbury steak next to it! That’s a lotta meat! It was decent though, and hot, as usual.
After dinner and the subway ride back to Tokyo Station, we stopped at Daimaru department store right before closing so we could buy one of these ring-shaped cakes we’d seen people lining up for every time we passed. It turned out to be something called “baumkuchen.” Well, we didn’t know what that was, but we were pretty sure it could be improved by ice cream, so we stopped at the convenience store on our way up to the room.
Then we ate it (tasty! Kinda like a Sock-it-to-Me cake with less icing) and agonized over what to do about our last full day in Tokyo. You see, I’d been percolating this idea that we could use the rest of the day after our Imperial Palace tour to go back to Disney. Uncharacteristically, Patrick really didn’t want to—he said that we had had the perfect visit and he thought that if we pressed our luck, so to speak, it might go horribly wrong somehow…? Plus, he seemed to feel that there was more he wanted to see and do in Tokyo. Whereas I, with four days of solo wandering around Tokyo under my belt, felt like I’d seen everything I’d originally wanted to see there. And, I pointed out, I hadn’t spent the last 10 years pining to visit Tokyo—I’d spent them pining to visit Tokyo DISNEY! Now I had the chance to spend just a little more time there, and I sure as H didn’t want to waste it standing in front of another &#$%@* shrine! (Forgive my cultural insensitivity… it was late and I was crashing from a baumkuchen binge…).