Ignes Dea is a consultant who has been working at Maverick since 2014. In December 2016, she took her Personal Development Fund to visit a country that holds a special place in her heart, Japan. This is the highlight of her long-awaited trip.
Who grew up with Sunday morning animated series like Sailor Moon and Doraemon? I, and most of the 90’s kid, did. When I was very little (the age, I mean, not the size), Sunday and the trip to the nearest video store were the things that I always looked forward to. It was the time to watch and browse all of my favorite fantasy or animated movies.
Later on, when I was 10 years old and things were not so easy at school, I fell in love with Studio Ghibli and Harry Potter, not only because they felt magical, but because of the lesson they gave me about being strong, embracing diversity and all the weirdness, quirky side that people have. I’m fascinated by the imagined worlds; from then until now they’re my special getaway from reality
Last year, I decided to tick one item in my bucket list and visited Japan, the motherland of most of my favorite and mind-boggling animated movies. Japan is one of the world’s most colorful & quirky countries with a long history of culture & tradition, and of course delicious cuisine with fresh-off-the-boat sushi on offer everywhere you turn, so, what’s not to love?
My main destinations in Japan were The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka and The Harry Potter World in Universal Studio. Visiting these places can be a bit tricky, so I’m going to share the highlights and tips. Let’s start with my favorite..
The Ghibli Museum
Remember the grey creature in the image above? That’s Totoro. Totoro is the character from the movie “My Neighbor Totoro” created by Studio Ghibli. This favorite character of mine is also the studio mascot. Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film studio, best known for its anime feature films.
For me, what makes Studio Ghibli so special is their whimsical creations and celebration of human life, not only the happy moments but the sad ones as well. Many Ghibli films taught me about loss and grieve. They taught me about balance; after all, who would enjoy the sun if it never rained?
The Ghibli Museum is located in Mitaka, Tokyo. The museum combines features of a children’s museum, a technology museum, and a fine arts museum, and is dedicated to the art and technique of animation. There’s a café, a bookstore, a merchandise store, a rooftop garden, and a theater for exclusive short films by Studio Ghibli.
The museum has a strict no-picture rule, except on the outdoor and rooftop garden area. They say they want the visitor to experience the museum only by their senses. And what an experience it was. The details were out of this world (well, it’s Ghibli’s world), every window was differently painted based on every Ghibli movie, even every doorknob is specially carved. One of my favorite features was the life-size replica of the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro. You can sit inside where everything is plushy and soft, it felt like you’re really riding the Catbus, just like in the movie.
Here are some tips on visiting this museum:
- Buy the tickets one month before visiting the museum, on-the-spot tickets are often sold out very early. You can buy the ticket in Lawson Japan for 1000yen, or ask a local tour agent to buy it for you.
- They have several visiting periods in a day, but the best time is 10 A.M. or 4P.M., when it’s not too crowded and the sun doesn’t burn you ☺ It’s also the best time to take pictures with Totoro and the Laputa’s Robot.
- The Straw Hat café served Totoro latte art and other food art based on Studio Ghibli’s characters. If you want to visit the café, make sure you get the queue number when you arrive there.
- Studio Ghibli has its own beer with a cute bottle design. Make sure to try one!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studio Japan
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
There are many things to love about Harry Potter, the books and the movie. If you’re a fan, you can see the fantasy comes to life in Harry Potter World in Universal Studio Japan.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a magnificent area, reproducing the alternate reality from the famous story. There are beautiful Hogwarts Castle, Hogsmeade Village, as well as ride attractions and many shops. The impressive details of the stores, castle and attraction, it’s a first hand experience of the magical world.
The main ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, located in the magical Hogwarts castle, was one of the best rides in my life. Well, Harry Potter is, to me, what religion is to the Pope. Another ride in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is The Flight of the Hippogriff, which is actually a family roller coaster with straw-covered cars shaped similarly to a Hippogriff.
Other attractions include Hogsmeade Village, where you can buy a ton of merchandise, see realistic props (such as the monster book), the pranks by the Weasley brothers and Ollivander’s wand shop.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter already exists in Florida, but the Black Lake only exists in Osaka. There’s also the live owls that you can see being carried around by their “wizards”.
- If you like sweets, TRY THE BUTTER BEER.
- Buy the express ticket for Harry Potter world; it’s a bit expensive, but you won’t have to wait 3 hours for the main ride.
- Try the delicious food with the magical and rustic ambience of Three Broomsticks. You could also buy the butter beer here.
- Like Ghibli Museum, there are several visiting time, the best time is in the morning, when it’s les crowded or 4pm, where you can stay and see the ambiance of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at night.
The Taste of Japan
As I said above, Japan is also famous for their authentic cuisine. Here are my top 5 restaurants/ food area that you have to try.
1. Gyukatsu Motomura, for their melt-in the-mouth medium rare beef katsu
2. Tsukiji Fish Market, fresh off the boat sushi and sashimi. Brace yourself for a long queue, though! One of the famous places to eat is Sushi Dai.
3. Dotonburi Area, takoyaki and gyoza galore
4. Luke’s Lobster, for the generous amount of lobster meat in one sandwich
5. Afuri Ramen, just try this one, trust me ☺
Furry Friends – Cat & Bunny Café
Japanese people have had a long relationship with cats. There are shrines that worship cats as gods across Japan and cats have also played a part in folk beliefs through the ages. Japan is also the paradise for cat-lovers and there are many cat cafés in every area. So I visited one called Ragdoll Café in Osaka.
Ragdoll Cat Café, 1000 yen for 1 hour with cute, fat and well-groomed cats
If you don’t like cats, that’s okay, no judgment here. You can visit the rabbit Café called Ra.a.g.f. in Harajuku.
Ra. A.g.f, 800yen/30minutes, friendly bunnies
Both the cat rabbit cafés that I visited will ask you to take off your shoes (beware of those smelly feet) and wash your hands before you enter the place. They will also give you treats to feed the bunnies and cats. Despite being a café, they don’t sell food and drinks for humans.
1. Fushimi Inari
2. Arashiyama and Bamboo Forest
Overall, this trip was a delightful and touching experience for me. I gained new inspiration by exploring Japan and seeing the creative process behind my most beloved animated and fantasy movies. The Japanese culture also taught me new values and perspectives—for me, being punctual and more organized. And of course, this trip has allowed me to rest and refresh after working my ass out throughout the year. Thank you, Maverick!