Monday, June 16, 2008

Day 3: Spirited Away

It was a big day for us. So eager were we to be underway we stopped at Yoshinoya's, of all places, for breakfast, because it was enroute to Shinjuku Station. Where were we off to? The Ghibli Museum, of course. What time did we have to be there? By 10 a.m.

We are both huge fans of Hayao Miyazaki, animator and storyteller extraordinaire, and the museum is his brainchild. Since the museum is in Mitaka, just nine stops from Shinjuku, on the Chuo line, how could we not make a pilgrimage? The only catch was getting tickets. To limit the number of people on the premises at any one time, tickets were for specific time slots and had to be pre-bought. The tickets themselves were reasonably priced (1000Y or $15); the problem was buying them. We could of course have waited till we arrived in Tokyo and bought tickets from the vending machines at Lawson convenience stores. But what if we could not get tickets for the day and time we wanted, or worse, had to miss it altogether, I reasoned. And so began the hunt for tickets. The JTB branch at Takashimaya had tickets but would only sell them to us if we booked our accommodation with them, something we preferred not to do. Online booking services offered tours for US$60, inclusive of train fares, sure, but clearly overpriced. In the end, it was our friend, ES, who saved the day. She arranged for a friend of hers, who was in Tokyo, to help us buy tickets. Yay, ES!

So there we were, on the way to Mitaka. Oh, back to the issue of breakfast - we had two sets, both with rice, miso soup, grilled salmon, pickled veggies, one with natto and raw egg (490Y/$7.35), and one without (400Y/$6). Maybe it was standard issue natto (fermented soy beans) but it didn't taste of anything much. Together with the egg, it was slimy and gooey, not exactly appetising. Maybe, like uni (sea urchin), only premium natto tastes good; cheap uni sometimes tastes like plastic raincoat, according to HM.

When we got to Mitaka Station, we boarded the community bus (shaped like a Catbus!) which for 200Y ($3) dropped us at the doorstep of the museum. Then, together with an excited crowd of mamas, papas and kiddies, we waited outside for the museum to open its doors.

Museum Ghibli

Once we were inside, we were enchanted by the sheer whimsy of the place. Too bad photography was not allowed inside. Miyazaki and his collaborators had gone to great lengths to create a magical world just waiting to be discovered. There was a surprise in every nook and corner.

what's that amongst the plants?

inside the toilet

who's that peeking out

a rare glimpse of the past

sootballs! aka susuwatari

oh look you can see Europe from this window

robot soldier on the roof

the "Keystone", also on the roof

From the outside, the buildings looked like they were carved out of rock. Inside, we felt like we were wandering through a much loved old house. In a room downstairs, traditional animation techniques, including the use of mechanical devices such as zoetropes, were showcased, taking visitors all the way back to the beginnings of animation. The effectiveness of these seemingly archaic machines, combined with the artistry of the Ghibli animators, was breathtaking. Upstairs, an animation studio had been lovingly recreated, in great detail, to allow visitors to discover for themselves the process of animation. This was no static display - each room was bursting with sketches and artefacts simulating both the sources of inspiration and the products of that inspiration.

The museum planners had left no stone uncovered. There was a children's book room where fans of Miyazaki, both young and old, could browse through his favourite books, a indoor playarea shaped like a Catbus, and of course a souvenir shop, where we spent much time and money, hehe.

photos not allowed? thank god for this

One of our favourite spots in the museum was the cafe which Miyazaki himself considers the"most symbolic place for this Museum". In typical Miyazaki fashion, the genesis of the cafe ran counter to commercial sense: a housewife, not a professional chef, was hired to conceptualise the cafe; the menu was planned not with cost efficiency or ease of preparation in mind but the kind of wholesome goodness that only a mother could think of; only natural, not processed, ingredients are used. In other words, the same care and attention to detail that went into the planning and running of the Museum proper was given to that of the cafe.

menu outside the Straw Hat Cafe

full house

We had to wait to be seated, time enough for us to explore the deck.

water cart

washing station for little ones

There was a waiting area, with chairs under a tent, where, thoughtfully, a basket of children's books had been supplied to ease the wait. Unfortunately for me, the books were all in Japanese. HM of course was not inclined to touch them anyway, leery as always of children and attendant germs.

gimme gimme gimme

Finally, we were let in and seated at the coffee bar. While we waited for our food, we watched the staff work.

never just a cup of coffee

ta-dah! - we had one just like that

The food was delicious and, unsurprisingly, very comforting.

steak frites

cassoulet style soup with tomato, beans and pork with bread

some of the best strawberry cake I have ever eaten

Together with hot milk tea and coffee with foamed milk, our meal cost us 4190Y ($62.85). It was not cheap but we were happy with our meal.

We finally left the museum at 2 p.m. My plan was for us to walk around Inokashira Park which the museum is a part of.

don't people have to work?!

hehe, the graphics say it all

The weather turned for the worse. We decided to head back before we got rained on, but by then we were somewhere in the park and the way back to Mitaka Station was not immediately obvious. Not wanting to waste time beating around the bush, literally, I opted to approach the nearest bystander who turned out to be a nice old man. While I struggled to communicate with him, HM stood by and laughed herself silly, at my attempts to mime "train" (I don't know why I didn't think of saying "JR", the name of the company that runs the trains, which everyone knows, even people who do not speak English.) Eventually though (and I'm not even sure what it was that I said which finally tipped the poor man off), he pointed us in one direction so off we went.

proud parents

proud parent

It took us a while before we realised we had not been directed to Mitaka Station but to Kichijoji Station, one stop before Mitaka which may or may not have been nearer. Kichijoji was a nice suburb though.

even here, a French restaurant

Never one to pass up the chance to shop, HM managed to guide us into the department stores in the vicinity of the station where we did some, uh, light shopping. We finally caved and bought some really expensive fruit: three oranges & a punnet of cherries for 1260Y ($18.90).

We then returned to hotel for a nap, some cup noodles and those unblemished fruit, while it rained outside.

Shinjuku by night

That evening, we checked out Muji at Isamiya Building which was within walking distance from our apartment.

We were surprised to find that it was decidedly low-end in feel, compared to what we were used to in Singapore, where the spotlit Muji stores with the minimalist look and their black and white products have a much more upmarket feel. In retrospect, the Tokyo store was no different in design and layout from its Singapore counterparts, but with every other store there sporting the same aesthetic, it felt that much more generic.

The other surprise was finding that it sold spectacles. For a flat fee, one could pick the frame, match it with a pair of legs, and even get prescription lenses made if one so wished. HM picked up a pair of specs but we would not be staying long enough to get the lenses.

Dinner was at a Lonely Planet Tokyo City Guide recommendation - Tsunahachi, a long-established chain of tempura restaurants. It took us a while to locate it, the Japanese system of numbering their roads rather than naming them being of no help whatsoever.

finally found it

there, in small print

It was a pretty big place. We were ushered into one of the tatami rooms where we proceeded to order up a storm.

the room

place setting

plain ol' tea for me, and cold sake (white deer brand) for HM

sashimi moriawase

Tempra (sic) Special Zen - prawns and assorted vegetables

fish and hamaguri clam

eggplant with perilla leaf

ayu fish and scallop

We enjoyed the meal. The tempura was oh so light and crispy, and the seafood so fresh. We ended with some rice and miso soup with teeny weeny clams. Again, the bill came up to a reasonable 8205Y ($123.75). We were getting real used to Tokyo prices.

Before we left, we had to take some parting shots:

behind every good tempura is a woman

the detritus

Back out on the streets, it was time for a pre-bedtime walk. This was becoming a ritual of sorts.

didn't understand the words but the sentiment was clear

lelong lelong... NOT (lookit those prices!)

woah, bodice ripper

what a cool idea - standing room only

dance street?

shakespeare played pachinko?!

nice ad


pmp said...

What did you buy at Museum Ghibli? What did you buy??

blobbes said...

a lot *blush* check out "Our Haul"