Japan 2019 Day 5June 26, 2019
Japan 2019 Series
Day five of ten has arrived and it's by far the most touristy of our time so far (and probably to come). Before we left for Japan, Joel booked a tour of Studio Ghibli - a famous Japanese animation studio, somewhat equivalent to Pixar. Spaces are so limited you have to book a month in advance and today was our day to visit!
When Joel booked our trip to Studio Ghibli he was given two options: a museum ticket or a tour of places related to Studio Ghibli and a museum tour, and somehow we ended up doing the latter. Our tour left from a hotel lobby in Shinjuku which was about forty minutes away from where we were staying so it was a get up early kind of deal - except I was doing it on about four hours sleep.
Bleary eyed, I followed Joel's navigation to the hotel - during which we survived an earthquake, and we made it to the tour start point with about three minutes to spare! At which point I realised this was less of a Studio Ghibli tour and more of a tour that ended up at Studio Ghibli's museum.
First up on the literary was a trip to a hotel that allegedly inspired some of the architecture from a famous bathhouse scene in the Oscar winning Spirited Away. I haven't seen Spirited Away so I don't really have a reference point but it was a pretty nice hotel, and we were getting a “free” lunch buffet - which was definitely tasty. A sore point was that we were offered drinks and ordered an apple juice each which apparently weren't part of the included price we had already paid, and cost us an extortionate 900¥ each, or about £14 for the two. It was a pretty nice hotel though; if you're rich.
I fell asleep on the way to the next destination so I only heard the initial part of the tour guide's filler spiel on the bus - some stats about the population of Japan and the train routes if I recall, so when we arrived at the next destination I wasn't particularly sure where we were and how it related to Studio Ghibli. Turns out it didn't! We were at Jindaiji Temple - which is a pretty nice temple but after a while they all tend to blend into one. This was the first Buddhist temple we'd seen though so we got to spend some time looking at the “healing” smoke and the massive bell which was pretty cool.
A little aside on shrines and temples, visiting Japan and visiting all these religious sites feels a little bit like doing a tour of parish churches in the UK. Whilst there are plenty to visit, and in isolation they're quite pretty - after a while they all kind of blur into one. I think after this we're going to just try and hit up the metaphorical cathedrals - ones that look really pretty otherwise it's just a waste of our time.
Before we finished at Jindaiji Temple we got some mochi - I only ate half of mine, Japanese sweets in my experience are extremely doughy and less on the sweet side but it was a good enough way to pass the time and escape the rain that i forgot to mention earlier. It rained all day just enough to be annoying but not enough to get soaked. The tour guide gave us a couple of post cards as an apology for the temple not being related to Studio Ghibli - I guess that was nice of them?
After a bit more sleep on the coach later, and we arrived at Studio Ghibli - the bit we actually wanted to visit! The museum itself is not what I expected - the architecture is surrealist and the structure of the museum is maze-esque. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside but to try and paint a picture of what it was like the main set of stairs are tight set of spiral stars in a bird cage that exit into a teenage-sized “mouse hole” which opens up to an obscure hall way that's cut-off from the main rooms of the museum. The entire building is full of holes, branching paths, and things to duck under. At one point I opened a door to reveal a mirror and my own reflection reflecting back at me!
The highlight of the museum was a Studio Ghibli short - having not seen any Ghibli movies I wasn't sure what to expect. The story, told without words, was of a witch who made an egg come to life and enslaved him in her fortress. One day when as the witch sleeps the egg creates a monster made of dough and they escape the fortress together - the short follows the witches pursuit and the dough and egg's attempt to evade as they make for the local town. It was heavily reminiscent of early Disney animation - clearly aimed at the child-like part of all of us and just as lovingly hand drawn. The characters and themes were definitely presented in a slightly more adult way, but I suspect this is just part of the norms of Japan.
The day rounded off with a trip to a local curry house during which our friends Dan and Alice sent us a picture of them posing in a purikura so Joel and I set out to find our own. You can see the result below!