Nerd Tour Japan 2014: Day Four

by Zac Bertschy & Hope Chapman,

This particular day was incredibly packed, so let's get right to it, shall we?

HOPE: Hip hip hooray, it's the Ghibli museum! I've seen all the Ghibli films and love a large number of them, so I was super stoked to see this place, what kind of merch they had, and how it would be themed. (Hint: it's 70% Totoro by volume. There's a big, fluffy sneak preview peeking at you through the window.) Unfortunately, we couldn't take pictures inside, but it was a neat place. The main hall and inner structure seemed like a more European take on the Spirited Away bathhouse center. There were exhibit rooms with slightly fantastical takes on the animation process, showing how a film gets made with examples from a few Ghibli works, that kind of thing. The gift shop was called Mamma Aiuto! with a big picture of Boss smiling on it. Of course it was mostly filled with Totoros, but there were some neat curios from other films in there too. Top to bottom, there were great little details for Ghibli fans everywhere. The building seemed designed to make children feel welcome, and make adults feel like children, and I definitely came away from it feeling full of magic and childhood and all that snuggly junk. It was a warm and fuzzy experience and one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Ah, the Ghibli Museum. The one place most American otaku will attempt to visit when they come here, and in spite of this being my third trip to Japan, I've never been. Time to remedy that.

HOPE: When we walked in, we received tickets with film strip snippets on them to see the museum-exclusive short of the day, Takara Sagashi, which was also the newest short, added in 2011. The short was cute, but the strips Zac and I got were from Ponyo and Earthsea, literally the only two Ghibli movies I actively dislike. Some luck!

There's absolutely no photography allowed inside the building whatsoever – you can take all the photos you want outside, but once you're in, that camera better be off or they'll haul you away to Miyazaki Jail, where I presume he sits there and tells you how disappointed he is in your generation and how everything you like is stupid stuff for dumb babies.

It's a very nice building, whimsical and yet poignant, like just about everything Ghibli's ever made. Inside there are two floors: the first is a series of whimsical yet poignant permanent exhibitions on the art and history of animation, including a giant Totoro zoetrope (if you've ever seen the Toy Story zoetrope at Disneyland, it's like that) along with a theater that plays one of about a half-dozen whimsical yet poignant short films. The one we saw was about a kid who goes running out in the countryside, befriends a bunny rabbit and helps an old lady bunny rabbit find her cane, and then they drink tea and eat cookies. It was whimsical, yet poignant.

Second floor has the (crowded, busy) gift shop and a whimsical – yet poignant – fantasy version of the Ghibli workspace, all carefully designed to hell and back like you're walking through the finished sets of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory (only instead of chocolate they smoke cigarettes and make some of the most beloved animated films the world has ever known). The place is chock-a-block with little things intended to remind you of Ghibli films without being direct references, but there's also a whole lot of original art on the walls. There's also a rotating exhibit room that featured a bunch of whimsical (maybe not so poignant – they fell down on the job there!) fun-science demonstrations involving camera lenses and light trickery.


HOPE: Poor guy. Every day he stands on the roof, watching for the last princess of Laputa to show up, and every day, more tourists instead. They were selling fox-squirrels down in the gift shop. I had a mighty urge to buy some and toss them up onto his shoulder.

HOPE: I may or may not have purchased a plastic Laputa pendant that I may or may not have run over this block's runes in fruitless but desperate expectation.

Door-onoke Hime. This is my favorite Miyazaki movie (though Nausicaa is my sentimental favorite, I acknowledge Mononoke Hime is a much better film and in my opinion his masterpiece) and I was pretty thrilled to finally find a plush Yakul in the gift shop.

He's goddamn adorable!

Here's the café. You can get Kaze no Tani no Beer here, as you've probably seen. Hot dogs and soft serve are also available, and more substantial stuff is in the restaurant, which had a long wait when we arrived.

HOPE: The lock keeps the soot gremlins inside.

Overall I'm glad I saw the place but it can be enjoyed fully in less than an hour and it reminded me very strongly of The Walt Disney Story at Disneyland – fantasy versions of old workspaces, not-quite-the-truth depictions of working conditions and personalities, and a strange deification of a complicated artist in family-friendly terms. I felt like I was walking through the marketing image of what Ghibli wants to be seen as rather than what they really are. Which is fine – I love artifice when it's tastefully executed and fun to indulge in (my love of Disney can attest to that) – but that's the feeling I got from the place.

Anyway, it's Nakano Broadway time. I've explained this place before – it's a couple floors of nigh-endless junk shops brimming with leftover anime goods, gatchapon machines, figures and merchandise from yesteryear and also a lot of military overstock and street food.

HOPE: The road to Nakano Broadway is a busy one, as you can see. Fast food, electronics, and all kinds of socks (see below) are available for purchase. Did I mention that Tokyo tourism is 80% shopping yet? Because it's 80% shopping. Oh the shopping. Miles and miles of shopping. Here we have all kinds of shopping…

HOPE: I see all kinds of sweatpants, Copo, false advertising!

On our way up to the otaku tunnels we were hungry to the point of collapsing so naturally we stopped at the restaurant you stop at only when you're that desperate, Lotteria. One of the guys on the tour decided to attempt the Attack on Titan Burger. There it is - that's actually the smallest version of it, and you can go up to 10 patties and 10 slices of cheese. He managed to conquer this thing in a few minutes, but really, it was about the size of an In-N-Out 4x4. By American crazy greaseball indulgence standards the Titan burger is pretty lightweight.\

MCNUGGETS SPOTTED. There's a shit ton of American toys in this place, by the way. An entire store dedicated to them, in fact.

HOPE: Nakano Broadway was pretty great. I wish we'd had more time to spend there, but I would have inevitably ended up buying more junk I didn't need. If Harajuku was the fashion flea market, Nakano Broadway was the nerd flea market, with pop culture shops of every kind selling re-packaged goods old, new, and somewhere in-between. One of the neatest things about shops like these is that they re-sell blind box and gashapon items (slightly marked up) that you might have missed out on. So if you like those little cute collectibles, but have terrible luck getting your favorite character or style, you can find the one you were looking for at Nakano Broadway! If one place doesn't have it, there are floors upon floors of other options. Like Akiba, it'll glaze your eyeballs over after a while. But in a good way!

HOPE: If you see a guy with this charm on his phone, avoid eye contact and give him a wide berth. Uuuuugh who would waaaant thaaaaat?

I don't know what's going on here and I don't want to. Nobody tell me.

HOPE: A-hahahaha Buzz in the background!


Lots of tee shirt shops too. Look how sad they are!

No matter where I go, I can't escape the Jam.

There's a cel shop that has a bunch of stuff in glass cases for auction. When you first see the prices, you do a spit-take, until you realize that's the opening bid price.

Like, this is listed as being $60. It didn't sell for that, I'm sure, but for a moment I thought it was being sold for $60. Which would've been insane.

Next we made our way over to Harajuku for the Bunny Café experience, and along the way we finally saw big groups of kids wearing the kind of crazy (and, hey, to be honest, pretty goofy) fashion you associate with Harajuku. Mostly it looks like they got caught in a candy store explosion in the 90s.

Here we are! Rabbit and Grow Fat. BUNNIES INSIDE.

This is a shelter café, meaning these buns are rescues and you can adopt them. Most people come and enjoy their company for an hour (10 bucks, which comes with a drink and a cup of bunny food to feed the buns) but it's a wonderful and noble thing to also try and find homes for these guys.

HOPE: This is Poteko. He was pretty hyper, much more interested in digging, tunneling through pillows and people, and leaping about than getting pet by humans, but he ambled near when you offered him fresh veggies, and it was fun to watch him exercise.

Poteko immediately thumped and peed on the floor, as bunnies do when they're kinda mad or wary and also want the place to smell like them. He was really energetic and tunneled around behind me, climbed up on me to get food, and then chewed on the furniture.

HOPE: Poteko was also a mischievous bunny. He seemed to know that snacks and handlers came from the back room, and scratched and picked at the gate whenever he could, trying to get back there and explore.

HOPE: This is a female French lop, and if the picture doesn't give you a strong enough sense of scale, she's about the size of a miniature schnauzer, and probably more muscular. Despite the big red eyes, she seemed like a real sweetie…a real big sweetie. Poops the size of mothballs, I'm telling you.

This is the café’s mascot bunny, a Holland lop, the same breed as my own. We got to open his cage, give him some carrot shavings and pet him. Here's a tip for petting Holland lop bunnies: you want to place your thumb and forefinger just under the base of the ears, behind the eyes, and rub there gently. They will eventually begin clucking (it's like bunny purring) and will lower their head for more pets. I had this bunny cluckin’ in no time. I am now an international expert at lop bunny petting.

It was all I could do to not try and fit this guy into my luggage.

HOPE: This is Donburi! He's a dwarf bunny, so even though he looks like a baby, he won't really get any bigger than that. He was kinda jumpy (ha ha) but he appreciated the carrot snack.

Look how small his ears are. So small.

HOPE: Reach, Poteko, reach!

HOPE: This cat café wasn't originally on the agenda, but it was right across from the bunny café (competition?) so it seemed like a good idea to stop in. The cats were very much at the end of their afternoon, in “nap mode,” and all except the shy Chee-chan (not pictured here) were um…”larger” than normal kitties. I found out why when treat time came and they went from relaxed apathy to “crawl all over the person with the yummy snacks.” Lazy afternoon hours aside, they were receptive to pets, snuggles, treats and even a little play, so I definitely got my money's worth of adorable kitty time.

Wow, sure is thrilling in here, look at all these cats doing jack shit.

HOPE: Nana was fully intent on staying in that spot and not greeting the new visitors, but with a little coaxing, she came over. I was told she likes butt pats, so a few butt pats later, she decided I was pretty okay.

Yep. So much fun in here.

HOPE: Despite what his spot on this corner pillow might suggest, Pino was the most receptive to visitor attention. He loves belly rubs, which I'm glad I was told, because I wouldn't have tried it otherwise. (Cats that don't like belly rubs will tell you so very violently.) So I gave him some treats and gently belly rubs and he rolled over and purred and it was adorable. Yay~!


HOPE: This is Ohno. Ohno is probably short for “Oh no, you're adorable, but you don't want to be snuggled!” He decided he would much rather scale the super-tall scratching post than be loved on, but that turned out to be a good thing, because…

HOPE: …there were flyer toys in the room for just such an occasion! Ohno enjoyed swiping and biting at the dangling toys, and even chasing them up and down the scratching post. He may not have been the snuggling type, but he was the most entertaining kitty overall.

HOPE: Your time is up! Go home, humans!

“Everything the light touches is my five-foot-by-seven-foot kingdom.”

NEXT TIME: Osaka! Disneysea!

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