Studio Ghibli Museum Review & Tips

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Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan is a tribute to Studio Ghibli’s many creations, and the technical & creative process of animation. It’s also one of the top tourist spots in Tokyo. This review features our thoughts on Ghibli Museum, including whether it’s worth the time, money, and effort to visit.

One of the first things you need to know about Ghibli Museum is that you must buy tickets in advance–they are not sold at the museum. It’s one of the toughest tickets to score for foreign visitors (presumably, anyone reading this blog) due to the Ghibli Museum selling a limited number of tickets each day. If you’re already on your trip, we want to share that up front so this post doesn’t get you excited about something you might not be able to do.

I’m not entirely sure of all the ins and outs when it comes to purchasing tickets. I know the easiest option for foreign visitors for whom the Ghibli Museum is a must-do is to do the guided JTB Tour that includes bus transit from downtown Tokyo or purchase Last Minute Ghibli Museum Tickets from Voyagin. The downside to both of these options is they are $50+ per person, and the tickets to the museum themselves only cost ~$10/person. However, if you don’t have a contact in Japan, these may be your only options…

Here are other ways you can purchase tickets outside of Japan; all of these are going to have some sort of convenience fee and they are also cumbersome and difficult to use. If you know anyone in Japan (or will be there for a while and have a flexible schedule), the best option is purchasing tickets from kiosks in Lawson convenience stores. (A friend purchased our tickets via this method.)

The problem with doing this if you wait until arriving in Japan is there is a strong chance your travel dates will already be sold out. During past attempts trying to do it ourselves, this prevented us from visiting. In fact, after trying this method over the course of several trips in the past, we finally gave up and had a friend in Japan pre-purchase the tickets for us. If you only have one shot at getting tickets, we would strongly discourage you from ‘winging it’ like this, unless it’s not a big deal if you don’t go to the Ghibli Museum.

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Studio Ghibli has gained some degree of global recognition thanks to releases like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, but many people reading this still might be unfamiliar with Studio Ghibli. Suffice to say, it’s an animation powerhouse, and director Hayao Miyazaki has (rightfully) earned the distinction as being the “Walt Disney of Japan.”

Perhaps the moniker of “Counter-culture Walt Disney” would be more apt, as Miyazaki-san routinely bucks convention and works outside of mainstream expectations. Consequently, Studio Ghibli films are a different breed, embracing whimsical visuals that appeal to the child in us all, but with ample amounts of darkness, subtlety, and more sophisticated themes than you’d expect in animation. (If you want to learn more about Studio Ghibli, I highly recommend The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a fascinating documentary that can be found streaming on Netflix.)

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Alright, moving on to the actual logistics of visiting the Ghibli Museum. Getting here, we took the JR Line to Mitaka Station. From there, you have the option of taking a direct bus to Ghibli Museum, or taking a 20-30 minute scenic walk.

We opted to walk, which I’d highly recommend, as the it’s a lovely stroll and impossible to get lost thanks to abundant signage.

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When you arrive at Ghibli Museum, you’ll encounter a line. This is not to purchase tickets, but for entry at the designated time. Once that time rolls around, entrance is pretty quick and painless.

Upon entry, every visitor exchanges their ordinary ticket for a keepsake ticket to a movie screening.

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Be sure to take as many photos as you can outside. The exterior of the building is has a unique architectural style befitting of Miyazaki, and has gradually been ‘reclaimed’ by nature since the museum opened.

Once you get inside the building, photography is strictly prohibited. Unlike “no photography” rules in the United States that are routinely disregarded without consequence, rules are to be obeyed in Japan. (All of the photos in this post are from areas where photography is permitted.)

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It’s unfortunate that photos are not allowed inside, as the intimate experience has so many photogenic areas. The multi-story Central Hall is airy and beautiful, featuring a gorgeous fused glass ceiling. It takes a few moments to catch your bearings and determine where to go first. We started with the Permanent Exhibition Room. This area contains paintings, stills, projected movies, and dioramas featuring characters and scenes from Ghibli films.

The beauty of this room is that it doesn’t just pay tribute to popular movies, but the filmmaking process. This is downright inspirational, and you can see how technology has evolved over the years, and what goes into bringing Ghibli films to life. I could have spent an hour in this modestly-sized room alone.

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The centerpiece of this exhibit is a large 3D zoetrope featuring characters from Totoro. If you’re familiar with the Toy Story zoetrope at Disney California Adventure, this should be familiar. In fact, the Toy Story zoetrope was directly inspired by this one. (John Lasseter and many of Pixar’s animators are big Ghibli fans–Lasseter penned the preface to Ghibli Museum’s souvenir guide and has had other involvement with Ghibli over the years.)

The Totoro zoetrope features a total of 347 figures in static positions, each slightly different from the ones they’re positioned near. When the zoetrope spins, a strobe light flashes, making the characters look like they’re moving. If you’ve never seen a zoetrope in person, you’re in for a real treat. I have seen zoetropes before, and I still stood here for a good 10 minutes, marveling at the running Cat Bus, bouncing Totoros, etc.

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Our next stop was the Saturn Theater screening room, where 9 different original animated Ghibli short films play on rotation. To my knowledge, the schedule here is random (or I just missed something–entirely possible). We ended up viewing A Sumo Wrestler’s Tail, which was really cute. Each of these films has a runtime of 10-20 minutes.

Our visit continued upstairs, where we saw one of the greatest things ever: the Cat Bus Room. This houses a giant, plush Cat Bus and variety of other characters from My Neighbor Totoro. Before you get hella-hyped for this mind-blowing experience…it’s only for kids. Without shame, I’ll admit that I had an internal debate over whether rushing the Cat Bus Room for a few seconds of unbridled fun would be worth getting kicked out of the room/arrested/deported. Ultimately, I restrained myself, but I’m still not sure I made the right decision.

(Good news: since our visit, it appears that a new Cat Bus for adults has opened!)

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We also encountered a series of rooms replicating an artist’s study and workspace. The room overflows with detail, including sketches and illustrations from Miyazaki films, but there are also books, toys, and other things that allude to what inspires animators.

It’s a tactile experience (yes, you can touch everything) that helps visitors gain a greater appreciation and understanding of what goes into creating an animated film. It’s really no surprise that a Ghibli Museum would be inventive and engaging, but this (and the downstairs exhibits) really felt like they transcended a standard museum and became something more.

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In fact, Ghibli Museum reminded me a lot of a theme park exhibit on animation. Over the years, Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios have both had animation buildings that offer participatory experiences, and to me, this surpassed even those. (About the only thing missing from the Ghibli Museum was a lesson in animation.) While the museum itself is small, literally everything is done at such a high level that the size is understandable (if anything, the intimate size of the museum helps make the experience).

Beyond that, there is an area for special exhibitions. These special exhibitions rotate regularly and generally last less than a year (you can see the current special exhibition on the Studio Ghibli website). The one that was shown during our visit is no longer running, so I won’t bother detailing it.

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From this level, we climbed farther up to see some art installations before heading outside. There, you can once again take photos, and also visit the Straw Hat Cafe or Mamma Auito Gift Shop.

While we were there, the Cafe filled to capacity at one point, so this is something to be mindful of if you’re visiting during prime lunch hours. I’ve seen some kawaii foods here (via Instagram), so it might be worth checking out.

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If you’re a Ghibli diehard, be careful at this gift shop. We saw people with armfuls of items, who had to have spent hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars here.

I’m not entirely sure, but a lot of these items looked similar to/the same as items we saw for sale at the Character Street in Tokyo Station.

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The only thing we bought was the aforementioned souvenir guide, which came with a free poster. (I’d recommend this book–it’s inexpensive and offers photos you won’t be able to take yourself.) The Ghibli Museum ticket itself is something of a souvenir, too.

In terms of whether Ghibli Museum is worth the time and money, that in part depends upon how you purchase tickets. If you’re paying a premium for a tour or some other package and have to fork over ~$50/person, it might be more difficult to swallow. If you’re a big Studio Ghibli fan, I’d say it is worth even that.

However, if you pay $10/person, the Ghibli Museum is a no-brainer for anyone. You don’t need to have ever seen a Studio Ghibli film to appreciate this museum (to be sure, you’ll get more out of it if you have). This is as much an interactive love letter to the animation process and history as it is a tribute to Studio Ghibli films. To me, it felt a lot like what you would have encountered had EPCOT Center opened a pavilion dedicated to animation (except with Miyazaki-san’s creations instead of Disney’s). That might sound like extremely high praise, and that’s exactly how it should be read. The Ghibli Museum is an absolute gem, and something we’d highly recommend to any visitor to Tokyo.

If you’re planning a visit to Tokyo, Japan, please check out my other posts about Tokyo for ideas of things to do (or not do) while there. Tokyo has a lot of things to see and do, so I also highly recommend the Lonely Planet Japan Guide to help better develop an efficient plan while there. 

Your Thoughts

Have you toured the Studio Ghibli Museum? Did you think it was worth the time, money, and effort to get tickets? Are you a serious Ghibli enthusiast, or just an animation fan? Is it a place you’d like to visit? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Share any other questions or thoughts you have in the comments!

24 replies
  1. Corene
    Corene says:

    Just got our tickets for Studio Ghibli Museum for March (next month)! It was a mission (45 minutes of refreshing & getting close but then getting bumped out & trying again & refreshing more & getting a little closer & getting bumped out again, etc, etc), but we got a confirmation. And because we did it online through the museum (their site links to Lawson) it only cost the ACTUAL ticket cost 2700 yen (1000 per adult & 700 for our teenage son). There still seemed to be lots of availability for other dates & times in March when we succeeded after 45 minutes, so don’t give up. If you miss out on the chance to do it through the JCB, this option is worth trying. It was frustrating, and time consuming, but it paid off!

    Reply
    • Corene
      Corene says:

      I should clarify, this was the release of the tickets for the month of March for all of Japan (& elsewhere). They release tickets on the 10th of the month previous for the upcoming month at 10am Tokyo time. So we tried to get on right at that time & it was brutal, but we persevered. I just tried again now, after I posted the comment above (about an hour & 10 minutes after the release – 11:10am in Tokyo) and I got in right away. Most dates still had at least one time available and many had multiple entry times available. There were only a few dates that were already sold out. So while you do have to be prompt – I suspect it sells out for the entire month in a couple of hours – it’s doable this way. You just have to be patient and persevere. Good luck everyone!

      Reply
      • Corene
        Corene says:

        One more thing. We found that some of the pages were slow to load. So you’d get to the page that asked you to select your date, but there was no calendar to do so. But if we waited 20-30 seconds, we could scroll down & it was there. Likewise once we selected our date the option to select numbers of tickets was very slow to appear, but it did eventually. Hope that helps. 🙂

        Reply
  2. Pam
    Pam says:

    Hi there. I’ve gotten such great info on this site… trying to give a little back with something I learned yesterday. This museum is a must-do for my 16 year old. The JTB USA process freaked me out a little with the waiting… and the talking to a … gasp… human, but yesterday I read that they take emails before the actual time tickets become available. This is a huge benefit to those of us that don’t have hours to hit refresh on our computers in the middle of a work day.
    Basically, my trip is planned for March 2019. My ticket window opens today at 10 am est… which is midnight there. Yesterday around 5pm, I submitted my 3 dates online… the March calendar was available… I got an email confirmation right away and within the hour, another email requesting I call to provide my payment info. By 8pm I was on the phone with a (very nice) human who took my info and said I was confirmed for my first choice date. They wait til the 1st of the month to send confirmations by email.
    Because I am quite serious about these tickets, I did a practice run of the Lawson online release at the time tickets became available last month. It took forever to even get to the site bc of traffic and unlike sites like ticket master, once you are in it also drops you between screens so you have to start all over. Had I wanted tickets for December, I wouldn’t have gotten them before they were sold out.
    So… I’m having a great day, knowing that I don’t have to report to my computer at 10 am. I hope I can make it less stressful for others too. Oh, and the 2 tickets w shipping were $41 but my daughter was slightly discounted. Either way, I think the extra money is way worth it and much easier than I initially thought. Good luck!

    Reply
  3. Scott
    Scott says:

    Most important tip: If you want to eat at the cafe, do so off-hours, like before 11 or after 2. The cafe is small and can have an hour-plus waiting line.

    Reply
  4. Ed
    Ed says:

    Great write up Tom. I’d used your blog entry for planning previously and I followed the exact same process with JTB as Scott detailed above for this July. Spent a couple of nervous days waiting for a response when they posted the calendar and showed the month sold out, but got an email today confirming our date! One interesting thing of note: I noticed on the Japanese Lawson site that you had to specify one of the four admission times, and I see on your voucher that it also had the 2pm admission time noted. When I called JTB I asked whether I needed to do the same, but was told the voucher was good for any of the four admission times on the given date; to just decide which we wanted and show up 30 minutes early.

    Hoping the Cat Bus exhibit is still there; like you mentioned it says ’til May but also “(closing date to be confirmed)”. Fingers crossed they’ll extend it. All that said, how long would you say you spent inside the museum?

    Reply
    • Scott
      Scott says:

      The museum is small so if you rushed through everything you’d probably get done in an hour (including the film but not eating)–but that would be a mistake. Like Disneysea, the pleasure of the museum is in its details–portholes full of dust bunnies, the beautiful stain glass windows, surprises like a door that leads to a mirror…
      It’s not really a museum but as the brochure says: “A place to get lost in.” To properly enjoy it, I would say 2 to 3 hours (not including eating).

      Reply
  5. Stephania
    Stephania says:

    I had no idea it was so hard to get tickets for this museum. Considering this is an absolute must-do for my friends and me in a trip we’re planning for next year, this is extremely helpful and good to know. Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Scott
    Scott says:

    Getting a straight ticket (not tour) through JTB USA is a bit complicated. Here’s how I did it:
    1. At 6 am (PST) Feb 1, went to JTB USA website and clicked on the Ghibli Museum link on the lower right to get a May reservation.
    2. Filled out an order form on their website. The tricky bit is it asks for 3 date options, but the calendar on the right wasn’t updated for May so I didn’t know whether I was asking for a date already filled.
    3. JTB USA sent me an e-mail confirming a May 1 reservation (my second choice) and telling me to call for payment.
    4. Paid via credit card by phone. They then sent an e-mail saying my ticket was shipped.
    By the time I checked the website the next day, May was entirely sold out. This may be because it’s closed for around 2 weeks for refurbishing, but I still recommend submitting the form as early as possible on the first day for a reservation 3 months later. Apparently there are only 200 tickets available per day for everywhere besides Japan, so you’re already behind the rest of the world time-wise if you’re ordering from the USA.

    Reply
    • Maggie
      Maggie says:

      Hi Scott,
      We got our Ghibli Museum tickets the same way. However, on the tickets we received there is no entry time window listed. How did you go about figuring out what time to go on May 1st? We’ll be visiting Jan. 2018.

      Thanks,

      Reply
      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        You can buy tickets locally in Japan ttrough Lawson — those you are assigned a specific time for entry (ex. 10:00, 12:00, 14:00). If you bought jtb tickets you can come in any time of the day (not sure if they let people in every 1-2 hours or whatnot, but you’re not restricted to any part of the day).

        Reply
  7. Theresa Carroll
    Theresa Carroll says:

    After finding your Disney tourist blog in preparation for our Walt Disney World trip, I’ve enjoyed reading all of your tips and tricks and now want to visit Disneyland in Japan. This museum would be a fantastic addition to that trip!!

    Reply
  8. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    Thanks Tom – this is one of my favorite places as it gives insight to Mr. Miyazaki’s process and creativity. We went the first time on a JTB tour and went the second time on our own having bought the tickets via the Consulate (I think) as directed on the museum’s website. It was a little tricky, but it all worked out. I also think I saw many of the items sold there on Character Street also, some a little less expensive like the plates and teacups. I’m sure there are exclusive items at the shop. It’s a fun madhouse in there.
    Thanks for your report!!

    Reply
  9. KCmike
    KCmike says:

    Thanks for this article. My daughter is a die hard fan of Studio Ghibli work. She has many if not all of the blu rays. I will have to mention the documentary on netflix as she would enjoy that.

    Reply
  10. Hector A Parayuelos
    Hector A Parayuelos says:

    Thanks for the write up! Great shots of the exterior. This has been high on my to-do list both times I’ve been to Japan, but unfortunately have not been able to make it. The first time, the only available ticket days conflicted with out TDR tickets. The second time, the museum had been closed for months and opened 5 days before we left – needless to say, there were no tickets available (even though we tried to get them within an hour of them announcing the re-opening dates).

    Maybe the third time is a charm!

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Supposedly, there was a fairly extensive refurbishment after we left and as they installed the new/current special exhibit (“All Aboard! The Cat Bus to the Ghibli Forest”), which opened in July and runs until May 2017. I doubt we’ll go back on our next trip, but I’d really love to see that adult Cat Bus!

      Reply

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