A week or two ago, I was hosting a friend in Japan. It was her second time in Kyoto, so we decided to branch out on adventure.
“Where do you want to go? What do you want to see?” I asked her.
“Well, going to the Ghibli Museum would be nice,” she said.
We checked the website, but as we were looking a mere month in advance, all of the possible days we could go were fully booked.
“Where else do you want to go? What else do you want to see?” I asked her.
“Well, since that’s a wash, maybe going somewhere related to a Ghibli film would be nice. Like the moss woods from Princess Mononoke.”
We checked, but we couldn’t justify taking a flight all the way out to a small island in Kyushu just to see one forest.
“Anywhere else you want to go? Anything else you want to see?” I asked her.
“Well, is there anything Ghibli related we could do on short notice?”
We checked, and struck gold in the form of Mei and Satsuki’s House–famous from the movie My Neighbor Totoro–in Aichi, Japan.
This house, which I refer to as the “Totoro House” for short, is surprisingly easy to find. Located in the Aichi Expo Memorial Park since 2005, it’s about an hour’s subway ride away from Nagoya Station. Hop on the Higashiyama line until you reach Fujigaoka, then change to the Linimo Line to Aichikyuhaku-Kinen-Koen Station. The one-way trip will run you 650 yen.
The entrance to the Expo Park (also known as Moricoro Park) has maps in various languages available, so you can figure out where you are and where you want to be. There are also signs all over the place, in Japanese and English. Admission to the park itself is free, and if it’s a nice day out I encourage you to take a look around. It’s huge, with ice skating, swimming, running courses, a ferris wheel, and gardens available for your perusal. (Many of these do cost something, so keep an eye out).
Follow the signs to the house- it’ll take you about twenty or thirty minutes on foot to get where you’re going. If you find yourself by the massive skating rink/swimming pool complex, you’re going in the right direction. There IS a bus, but when we were there it ran only once an hour or so and wasn’t worth waiting for.
There are usually four time slots a day to view the house, and a limit of 50 people per time slot so the place doesn’t get overly crowded. We reserved tickets beforehand, but as we went on a weekday there were lots of spaces available so it’s possible to just arrive on the day and see what’s open. If you need to go at a specific time, however, the link (in Japanese) is here to reserve tickets. NOTE: You need to be in Japan, because after reserving them online you need to go to a Lawson convenience store and use the Loppi machine to print them out. It’s 510 yen per person online, 500 yen in person at the reception desk.
Whether you reserve in advance or not, waltz up to the reception counter as soon as you arrive. Purchase your tickets (or show the ones you have) and the woman behind the counter will give you a pamphlet explaining the house details/rules in your language of choice (we got English) and a lanyard with your tour time and tour group on it. Once you have that, go sit under the white tents to one side of the desk and wait until your tour guide is ready.
Be warned, the tour guide speaks only Japanese, but everything they explain about the house will be written on that pamphlet, so read it thoroughly! Especially the rules, because there are some tricky parts to it. Regular tourists are not permitted to take photos inside the house, but you are encouraged to do so outside (and you can take photos of the interior as long as you yourself are physically outside).
Our tour guide was a slightly older woman in hiking gear who spoke very quickly, and often to one side so none of us could actually hear her. I imagine she’s done this tour too many times to care anymore. She did give us a laugh: at one point she asked if all of us had seen the movie before. Um. Yes, we have, or we wouldn’t be here, right?
We were led across a bridge and past a gate to the house, and given a choice: we could stick with the tour guide and listen to her explain about the house, or we could immediately do whatever we wanted in terms of pictures. Another rule: You’re permitted inside the house only ONCE; once you’ve seen it, you’re not allowed back in. So plan pictures and whatnot accordingly.
The house was adorable, and looked like the characters would be coming back at any moment. I was blown away by the details, from the calendar little Mei made for her dad to the school books you can find in one girls’ backpack–even to what you can find in the drawers! I encourage you to poke around, open and close doors and drawers while inside. You’ll find lots of little Easter eggs, from the bentos that Satsuki used for the family to the door to the attic.
Outside is great, too; you’ll see the father’s sandals, the bucket with the hole, the little space under the house where Mei chased one of the little Totoros, etc. There’s even the bus stop! One thing I liked was the water pump; it actually worked, but you did have to pump it several times to get water going, just like in the movie.
The only downside to this tour was that it was only thirty minutes, and the tour guide is strict about it. So keep an eye on the time and plan what you want to see, and what pictures you want to take, accordingly.
If you are a fan of My Neighbor Totoro and happen to be in Aichi, this is a lovely little day trip you can make to get out of the city. And when you’re done with the tour, there’s a souvenir shop by the entrance of Aichi Expo Park with plenty of Totoro goods you can pick up to remember your trip by.
Have you visited the house or, conversely, another place that’s famous for its’ connection to Studio Ghibli? What did you make of it? Would you recommend it to others?