To be honest, I came to Tokyo for only three reasons. Each had been percolating in my mind, independently, for years. Each seemed to be something I needed to do. Each of these demanded a pilgrimage. And each of these would be difficult.
I first read about The Ghibli Museum in a New Yorker profile on Hayao Miyazaki, one of my favorite filmmakers. A legend in Japan, he’s created a number of gorgeous, meditative animated masterpieces — Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo are my three favorites. They’re slow, weird, dark, and scary. Most of all, they’re films about awe. Awe for the protagonists, and for the audience as well. The Ghibli Museum is his own tribute to himself.
Like any good pilgrimage, it wasn’t an easy journey. Tickets could only be bought, in advance, from Japanese-language ATMs in Lawson’s Convenience Stores. It took an hour to find a Lawson’s. And then thirty minutes to work out how to buy a ticket. Then another hour to get to the suburb.
I needed a break. I needed sustenance. I needed some kobe beef.
Some girl had told me about a little shop, so small only a dozen customers, maybe less, could fit inside, with some of the best kobe beef you could find. One stop before Ghibli, I hopped off the train, and guided my way through alleyways, by intuition, straight to Satou. And what a find! Meat so tender, oozing with sop-worthy juices, every bite a dream.
The Satou waitress had forced a large paper apron on me, which — alongside the instrumental version of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” playing softly, I felt a little like a character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. But the two chefs slicing and frying meat inches away from me were nothing like mean ol’ Nurse Ratchett… maybe more like sweet Mary Poppins. Satou was glorious.
Thus far, the best meal in Tokyo.
But back to Ghibli! I really can’t describe it well. It was incredibly magical. It was weird, and odd, and, like his movies, filled with awe. There were physical animations (using times strobe lights) that made me giggle with joy. Everywhere, drawers to be opened, keyholes to be peeked through, doorways too small for adults to climb through, exhibits hidden away. Nothing was explained — they only said “Let’s lose our way, together.” I lost my way. It was like Willy Wonka and Dave Eggers opened a place of curious glee together.
In a small movie theater, we watched a gorgeous scene from Totoro, a wonderful old Miyazaki film distributed by Troma. Along with a room full of Japanese adults and teens and kids and ust a handful of European geeks, I ate it up with such a wild wide smile.
Pictures were very much banned inside the museum, so here are a few snapshots from the outside:
So the first pilgrimage was tackled, leading me to Mission #2: Miracle Fruit!