One of the things I love the most about living in Japan is how much there is to do. There’s always something new or exciting going on somewhere, and now I live here I can finally visit all the places and do all the things I’ve been reading about for so many years.
One of my big goals is, of course, going to the Ghibli Park which opened recently in Nagoya. Alas, Nagoya is not all that close to where I live, so for now, it’s on the “someday” list, but that’s okay because it turns out there’s more than one way to see at least some of what’s in the new theme park! Right now there’s a traveling exhibition going around Japan which has a lot of information about the current Ghibli Park and its future plans, as well as traveling versions of several of the Park’s more portable highlights.
I managed to book a ticket to see the exhibition at the Kobe City Musuem, which is quite close to my house, and I headed off to see it on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Tickets were timed, which meant I had to be there between 1:30 and 2:00, and I slipped in just before 2:00 — even for something this exciting, I’m not good at being on time!
There are four areas of note in the exhibition — the entrance, the Ghibli Museum area, the Goro Miyazaki retrospective, and the Ghibli Park area (which itself is split into current and future sections). The entrance has the Spirited Away set with No Face on the train, and on weekdays you can take photos sitting next to him, though on weekends it’s not allowed due to crowd numbers. It also has a display of posters and then, delightfully, a Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro which is big enough for even adults to sit in! Until recently the only Catbus available to us was in the Ghibli Museum in Mikata, and entry was limited to elementary school aged students only. But now, thanks to this exhibition, I have realized my dream of sitting in a Catbus — and I’m delighted to report that it’s every bit as soft and comfortable as the movie promised.
(The Catbus also has a special detail just for this exhibition — the location plate above its head reads “Kobe”, the city the exhibition is currently in, but similar to its spelling mistakes in the movie, the “be” in “Kobe” is upside down.)
The next section is about the Ghibli Museum in Mikata, Tokyo, which originally opened in 2001. It was personally designed by Hayao Miyazaki, and the exhibition is a mixture of his detailed plans for the building and photos of the Musuem as it is now. Much like the exhibition, photos are forbidden in most of the Ghibli Museum, so it’s a rare chance to see the details of it without going all the way to Tokyo to visit it in person.
The third area is the Goro Miyazaki retrospective, containing information and pictures from his three movies to date — Tales of Earthsea, From Up On Poppy Hill and Earwig and the Witch. I will admit to not being too interested in the junior Miyazaki’s movies so I breezed through this section fairly quickly, but there was a good selection of storyboards and concept art for anybody interested in his work.
The fourth section is the main event — exhibits all about the new Ghibli Park. It starts with a detailed miniature of Satsuki and Mei’s house from My Neighbor Totoro, kitted out with all their furniture and belongings in perfect, tiny detail. In the real Ghibli Park there is of course a full-sized replica of Satsuki and Mei’s house which I really want to see, but until then the miniature has all the details, and is extremely charming as well.
After that there is a large display of concept art and prototypes for many areas in the Ghibli Park. The items from the antique shop in Whisper of the Heart is particularly interesting, and I discovered that most of the prototypes were created in full-size but out of styrofoam, including a grandfather clock and a hand-carved merry-go-round horse!
Bridging the space between the current and future Ghibli Park exhibitions is a life-sized replica of Yubaba from Spirited Away in her office, from the scene where Chihiro comes to beg for a job. Like Satsuki and Mei’s house and the Catbus, photos of the display were permitted, but to prevent congestion, photos with it were not allowed. Just like No Face on the train, it really does look like it’s come straight from the movie, and I really appreciate their attention to detail. I wanted to touch the skull on the desk, but even if it was allowed, with Yubaba sitting right there I don’t think I’d dare!
The last section is about the as-yet-unfinished areas of the Ghibli Park, Mononoke Village and Valley of Witches. Mononoke Village is planned to open in late 2023 and Valley of Witches in 2024, but the exhibition is focused mainly on Valley of Witches, specifically the full-sized model of the castle from Howl’s Moving Castle which is planned as its centerpiece. There are miniature models of it — also made from styrofoam! — and a great deal of concept art, but the most exciting piece for me was the castle’s already completed right front leg (the display information was very specific) which was installed in the middle of the display and reached all the way up to the roof! In the whole exhibition, that was the only thing I truly wished I could have taken a photo of but wasn’t allowed to. I’ll just have to wait until I can see the real thing, presumably attached to the rest of the castle, at the Ghibli Park one day.
After the final area of the exhibition there was the traveling exhibition shop, which included limited edition exhibition goods, limited edition Kobe only exhibition goods, and exclusive items from both the Ghibli Museum and the Ghibli Park. If you want to see how much damage they did to my wallet, I made a video! (Mum, do not watch this.)
At the end of my adventures, I retreated to the Kobe Museum’s cafe, which is one of the many and varied Tooth Tooth cafes in the area. (That’s a blog post of its own for the future — it’s technically a chain, but each and every Tooth Tooth is vastly different from the others, with the only thing they have in common being that their food is always delicious.) To celebrate the Ghibli Exhibition, Tooth Tooth currently has three special Ghibli themed drinks, and as I was very tired, I decided that I needed two of them; the Totoro iced chocolate, featuring a chocolate acorn and a nasturtium leaf as Totoro’s umbrella, and the Howl’s Moving Castle caramel iced coffee, with caramel popcorn fire with red-and-yellow-chocolate swirl Calcifer atop it. The Howl’s Moving Castle rosemary lemonade, decorated with Prince Justin’s top hat and scarecrow stick, will have to wait until next time.
The Ghibli Exhibition in Kobe is only open until the 25th of June, but there are still tickets available for anybody who is interested. After Kobe, it will be moving to Yamaguchi, where it will be running from the 15th of July until the 24th of September. The Exhibition is almost entirely in Japanese, but it’s not a huge impediment to understanding, as the exhibits mostly speak for themselves. If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan who can’t make it to the Ghibli Park yet, or are just interested in the history of their two attractions, I strongly recommend this exhibition!