Everyone who loves anime sooner or later watches a Studio Ghibli movie. For some people, those movies are even what brought them to anime in the first place.
When I was a teenager, a friend brought me a DVD from one of his trips to Japan. It was “My Neighbor Totoro” and it quickly became one of my favorite movies until this day. Even though there weren't any subtitles (at least not any I could read) and my Japanese was very poor at this time, I completely sunk into the captivating atmosphere that every Ghibli movie creates. It gave me a warm and peaceful feeling inside and even motivated me to increase my Japanese-skills.
I'm sure a lot of people share a special bond with their favorite Ghibli anime. Often called the “Japanese Disney”, I am not very pleased with this comparison. I don't see many similarities to Disney other than both studios being very famous and doing enormously detailed work. I could write a whole column on this topic alone (and maybe I will in the future), but for today I wanted to tell you about the beautiful Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo.
On my third trip to Japan in 2016 it finally happened: Me and my friends were going to visit the Ghibli Museum!
I was so excited! My friend and her husband (who my partner and I met for a mutual holiday in Tokyo) booked our tickets in advance. It wasn't possible to buy any tickets in the museum itself because there were time slots for visitors. I haven't read anything otherwise lately so I'm sure you still have to get your tickets in advance, especially with the pandemic situation going on.
The museum itself offers tickets through the travel agency JTB and their global offices. You can find a list of them on the museum's home page. Some other travel agencies also sell tickets – but there's another way to get your ticket: The famous convenience store chain LAWSON also sells tickets for the museum on their online platform.
The way from Mitaka station to the museum leads through Inokashira park, for which I highly recommend planning some time to visit. It's truly beautiful there!
When we arrived at the museum, we didn't have to wait long to get inside. And once you walk through the entrance, it feels like you're getting completely absorbed into another world.
The whole museum is designed with so much love and so many wonderful details from the movies, it's impossible to explore everything in just one day.
The walls and shelves are covered with concept art, original sketches and storyboards, miniature models and properties from the movies, that were built perfectly down to the last detail.
You're not allowed to take pictures on the inside, so I can't show you any. To be honest, it's better that way and have everyone explore the wonders of the museum for themselves. But in case you want to read about some more details, I'll tell you what I remember from my visit.
First we were guided to a small cinema in which we were shown a Ghibli short movie which was exclusively created for the museum. You can't find the movie anywhere else! The Japanese in the movie was very simple and the story was easy to understand even without any Japanese skills. I guess that's because many families with their kids are there but they are also considering lots of tourists from other countries visit the museum, too.
Next, we walked through a part of the museum that was built after the office of Miyazaki Hayao, the creative head of Ghibli studios. There was way too much to see and some of the stuff inside were even original items. I felt so blessed standing in this huge mess, imagining Miyazaki-san sitting on this desk, planning the next movie that would make millions of people swarm into the cinemas.
On the rooftop of the museum, taking pictures is allowed again. There is even a photo-station where you can pose next to one of the giant robots from “Laputa” (which we did, of course!). In one of the windows, I noticed two of the cats from “The cat returns” (I love cats, so this made me really happy). Speaking of cats: Inside was a giant plush cat bus from “My neighbor Totoro” and I was so pissed that only kids up to the age of 12 were allowed to play with and climb on it.
I would have loved to at least touch it once!
There are also souvenir shops and small food stands with a little outside picnic area. My friend and I got ourselves some delicious ice cream and a few small tokens from the shop. I expected it to be a lot more expensive but even though I didn't have much money at that time, I was able to buy two key chains of the kodama from “Princess Mononoke” to remember that day.
If you ever get the chance to visit the Ghibli museum, do it! I had so much fun there and wish I could go again soon. And there's also a Ghibli theme park which will open its gates this year in Nagoya. I can't wait to explore this one!
Have you ever been to the Ghibli Museum? What's your favorite Ghibli movie? Tell me in the comments!
Valentine's Day is celebrated in many western countries – a day where love birdies exchange gifts like chocolate, flower bouquets, cards with little poems or other signs of their (mostly romantic) love.
The holiday is also known in Japan since the 1930s, but it wasn't until the 950's it was really celebrated there thanks to marketing campaigns from big companies.
Over time, Japan has come up with their own specific “rules” and traditions for Valentine's Day.
While in the western culture it's mostly men who are making presents to women they love or are in a relationship with, in Japan it's the other way around: On February 14th, it's exclusively women who make presents to men. And in most cases it's chocolate or sweets that contain any kind of chocolate on this day. Home made chocolate is even more appreciated than the one from the stores, since it shows how much effort you put into the act of gifting someone you like.
The men return the favor one month later on White Day (March 14th) - then they have to give presents in the form of sweets made of white chocolate only (or cake with white frostings, for example) to women from whom they received a present on Valentine's Day.
When I was younger, I usually gave my friends or family some chocolate on Valentine's Day too, because I had seen people doing it in anime and manga. Later I learned that there are three different types of chocolate you can give away:
That's the chocolate for the one you love or have a crush on. Many women/girls make chocolate on their own for this occasion as an especially loving gesture.
Of course you can give chocolate to your friends or people that are close to you, too! I used to do that a lot while I was still in school/university but nowadays I keep forgetting about this holiday... Whenever I receive tomo-choco from my friends I usually give something back on White Day (I don't care about the gender stuff too much...).
This is more of a social pressure for many people in Japan, because that's the kind of chocolate you give to your boss, coworkers or other people you feel obligated to.
There's even a category called jibun-choco (自分チョコ) – chocolate you buy just for yourself. Especially when you're lonely or can't see/meet up with your friends, that's definitely something I would do, too. Due to corona, I think the jibun-choco rate has increased the last two years...
If you've read my last holiday special about Japanese Christmas, you already learned that Japan loves to adapt holidays from the west and make them their own. Every year the stores start their advertisement for Valentine's Day early in Japan and offer great sales. Materials for making your own chocolate are top sellers and some department stores have a whole floor filled with booths where you can buy chocolate in all shapes and sizes. The prices range between acceptable and absurd.
It's the same on White Day – I happened to be in Japan for this holiday once with my partner and he bought me a little white cake. Later he told me there were so many shops offering White Day's chocolate that he felt absolutely overwhelmed.
Do you give away chocolate on Valentine's Day or ever received some? Have you ever made chocolate yourself? Or did you ever express your love through chocolate? Let me know in the comments!
During my time in university I got to know a lot of exchange students from Japan I'm still friends with up to this day. Since we were all broke back in those days, they usually couldn't afford the flight to visit their family and friends in Japan over Christmas and New Year's holidays.
Which wasn't particularly a bad thing because most of them were curious how we celebrate in Europe. So mostly every year I used to bring a Japanese exchange student (one time even my Japanese teacher!) to our family dinner on Christmas eve (as it's tradition in Germany) and to our parties with friends on New Year's night.
In exchange, I learned a lot about Japanese Christmas and New Year's traditions.
Christmas is celebrated in Japan although only a very small part of the population are Christians. The malls and streets are illuminated by thousands of colorful lights and decorated Christmas trees can be found at every corner. But here, Christmas is more a holiday for couples and friends than for family gatherings. Lovers make presents to each other and friends are having Christmas parties. The concept of Santa Claus visiting your home to bring presents is also known and lived in Japan. Kids will get presents even though most families in Japan are Buddhists or Shintos. There are even Japanese Christmas songs - and I don’t mean just translated songs from western countries, but their very own original Christmas songs. Christmas can also be found in Japanese pop-culture: In almost every slice-of-life anime and manga series there’s a special episode centered around this holiday.
Many people are surprised to hear that the fast food chain "Kentucky fried chicken" plays a big part in the traditional Japanese Christmas dinner - in the 70s, when the first branches opened in Japan, they didn’t get many customers. Thanks to a smart marketing campaign they made the Japanese believe that fried chicken is a traditional American Christmas meal. Up to this day, many Japanese families order their christmas dinner at KFC and even need to do so some weeks in advance to get them.
Another food that you see in Japan around Christmas is a Christmas cake. It has nothing in common with the cakes you’d find in western countries, which are traditionally filled with raisins or glacéed fruits. In Japan, stores and bakeries usually sell strawberry shortcakes, chocolate cream cakes or incredibly cute little tartlets shaped as Rilakuma, Hello Kitty or Totoro.
Contrary to Christmas New Year is the holiday where the family comes together to celebrate. After the Meiji Restoration, Japan accorded to the Gregorian calendar and since then New Year is celebrated on January 1st.
Kids (even older ones) will usually get an envelope with some money in it for New Year. There are many TV specials that families watch together eating toshikoshi soba (New Year noodles) or mochi (rice cake).
While it’s a tradition to write Christmas cards in western culture, you’ll get and send New Year cards, usually with prints of the animal from the New Year’s zodiac sign in Japan. Next year will be the year of the tiger!
Cleaning the house before the new year arrives is a tradition Japan shares with the western culture. But in Japan there are specific rules on how to do the o-souji, the “big cleaning”, that are pretty close to a ritual.
Speaking of rituals: You might have heard about the annual ringing of the bells in shrines nationwide exactly 108 times on the night of New Year’s Eve. This number symbolizes the 108 worldly desires in Buddhism. After the last bell rings you’re supposed to be cleansed from last year’s problems or negative emotions.
On the first day of the New Year, many people in Japan visit the shrines to pray to the gods, bring them offerings and buy lucky charms at the temples. Many women wear beautiful kimonos during this visit. If you don’t need much sleep, you can also participate in the Japanese tradition to watch the first sunrise of the New Year.
There are many more traditions for Christmas and New Year that I didn’t list here but if you ever have the chance to celebrate these holidays in Japan, check them out yourself! If you have already been in Japan around this time of the year, let me know about your favorite tradition in the comments!
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all of you! :)