Header image courtesy of Nicole Shi
No matter how old you are, you must have watched—or at least heard of—the works of Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿), the Academy-winning Japanese animator and co-founder of Studio Ghibli who created timeless and mesmerising animated features such as Castle in the Sky, My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. Another great Japanese animator, though less well-known than Miyazaki, is Shigeru Mizuki (水木 しげる), the mastermind behind the manga series GeGeGe no Kitarō (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎).
While these animated features might appear to be simple entertainment for kids, they actually have a deeper meaning and involve topics such as the environment, friendship, family, war, and human emotions. Dedicated fans from all over the world would come to Tokyo to visit museums and other establishments that pay homage to their favourite manga series—here are the best spots to visit for Ghibli and Kitarō fans.
Located in Mitaka, Ghibli Museum is a place where kids and adults can revisit their favourite characters and scenes from Miyazaki’s fantastic imagery world. Simply take the Chuo Main Line on JR East from downtown Tokyo and you will find yourself at the Mitaka station 30 minutes later. Afterwards, just take the south exit to board the Mitaka City Bus—there is no way that you are going to miss it.
Despite its unexpectedly small size and limited space, Ghibli Museum has managed to build a wonderland that allows children to have fun, but at the same time, intrigue adults with a showcase of the technology, art, and creative process behind Miyazaki’s amazing creations.
There is always a long queue at Ghibli Museum. Upon entering, you will receive an admission ticket that consists of three still frames from a Ghibli film, a souvenir that you should definitely keep—it also gives you access to a Ghibli movie screening. The museum grounds consist of a whimsically-designed multi-storied mansion and plenty of greenery. Before heading indoors, you will be greeted by the loving robot who offered Sheeta a flower in Castle in the Sky, and various decorations that are ornated with characters and themes from different Ghibli animations.
As for the indoor area, it is like a maze with lots of twists and turns, hidden doors, and winding staircases, which will surely make you feel a bit disoriented. However, make sure that you visit every inch of the museum, to catch every detail—you're sure to find pleasant surprises everywhere you turn. The museum has several exhibition rooms with one of them featuring a recreation of Miyazaki’s studio, which include details such as pots of gouache paint and scrapbooks filled with sketches of different characters and scenes.
You should also visit the Saturn Theatre to view original short films by the studio, only available at the museum and nowhere else. The film for each month is different, so remember to check the screening schedule—you might be lucky enough to enjoy a screening of Mei and the Baby Cat Bus, a mini-sequel to the classic Totoro.
The final stop of your visit is definitely the museum shop because it offers a great variety of souvenirs, such as Baccarat figures, plates and cups, and plush toys. Remember, you must buy your tickets way in advance because Ghibli Museum only sells a limited number of tickets each day and you cannot buy them on the spot.
Ghibli Museum, 1-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka, Tokyo | (+81) 05 7005 5777
After leaving Ghibli Museum, you should head over to the neighbouring Chofu, which is only a short train ride away. Chofu is the city where Shigeru Mizuki had lived for most of his life. While overseas manga fans might not know him as well as Hayao Miyazaki, Mizuki was definitely a pioneer of supernatural manga when he created Hakaba Kitarō (later changed to its current name GeGeGe no Kitarō) in 1960.
You can find Tenjin Dori Shopping Street just a block away from the north exit of Keio Chofu station. This street also leads to Fudaten Shrine, the place where Kitaro made his home in the woods behind it.
For those who aren’t familiar with GeGeGe no Kitarō, the word “yokai” (妖怪) is used to describe supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore. The protagonist of the series is Kitarō, the last survivor of the ghost tribe, and he was born in a graveyard after his parents had passed away. The story of the manga is a collection of his adventures with other ghouls and paranormal creatures to promote peace between humans and yokai. While there are only a few statues of Kitarō and his gang on Tenjin Dori Shopping Street, it will serve as a taster for your next destination.
Now, let us head towards Jindai-ji and you can easily spot Kitarō Chaya from a distance as it has a giant pair of geta sandals on one of the rooftops. It is a gallery, shop, and themed café that pays tribute to the father of Kitarō.
As you approach the teahouse, you will soon be attracted by the statues of Kitarō and Rat Man, life-size cardboard cutouts of other characters, the Kitarō van, and the mini graveyard, all of which are great for pictures. While the teahouse might look small on the outside, there is plenty to see and do and it is recommended that you start with the gallery on the second floor.
Set in a dimly lit environment, the Yokai Gallery showcases different types of yokai, such as syunobon (朱の盆), kappa (河童), and gasha-dokuro (がしゃどくろ). They are either placed in display cases or peered at through peepholes to see how they live in their natural habitat. In addition, there are numerous GeGeGe no Kitarō original drawings by Mizuki on display.
After touring the gallery, you can go downstairs to the gift shop to get your hands on limited-edition Kitarō and yokai merchandise, then head over to the café for some coffee and desserts before making your way back. Top recommendations include the Gegege latte—you can choose a character to add onto the foam, and Ittan-momen chaya sundae, which has an Ittan-momen ( 一反木綿) gelatine as a topping.
Kitarō Chaya, 5-12-8, Jindaiji Motomachi, Chofu, Tokyo | (+81) 04 2482 4059