Some people really love Star Wars. Others love Disney. And me? I love Studio Ghibli.
We had a red box of VHS tapes, which were apparently dubbed in Taiwanese. I barely knew any words in Taiwanese, but it didn’t matter. I watched the videos repeatedly for years, and it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I finally got other Ghibli merchandise – a couple DVDs to replace the long worn out tapes. So, you can imagine my excitement when my boyfriend suggested a trip to [Hong Kong and] Japan, the origin of my beloved animated films and location of Ghibli Museum, my top must-go destination in Japan. My excitement was only slightly dampened when I found that all overseas tickets were already sold out more than a month in advance; however, a friend successfully ordered tickets from a Lawson’s (can be done on the 10th of every month prior to going) for us. Each ticket includes an opportunity to watch a Studio Ghibli short – that day, it was Koro no Daisanpo.
Photography is not allowed inside, but I assure you, Ghibli Museum was like Disneyland to me. I loved being able to see “behind-the-scenes” and discover more about Hayao Miyazaki’s works.
No trip of mine would be complete without a few (okay, more than a few) food spots. We headed first to Omotesando Koffee, which I read was especially popular with foreigners for their great coffee and custard squares. Sadly, this particular location is closing on December 30th, 2015, but they have other shops and are opening one in Hong Kong in 2016.
The next highlight was mendokoro NAKAJIMA. Nakajima is a pâtissier whose first restaurant, Shinjukukappo Nakajima, earned a Michelin Star in 2008 and has a bargain set lunch menu featuring sardines that’s about a tenth of its dinner price. I accidentally mapped out directions to the mendokoro restaurant, which specializes in udon and soba noodles (lunch set is still about half price of dinner), instead of Shinjuku, but the rumors of it being difficult to find still rang true. Mendokoro is located deep in Hotel New Otani’s Garden Tower on the Lobby Floor.
Our strained navigation skills notwithstanding, we finally found it and were pleased to see that there was no wait (the other location warned of hour waits for those who don’t come before opening). Yes, my hot soba noodles with tempura (including shrimp) and Jay’s curry udon were not cheap at about $30 each. However, I love noodles, and these were the best damn Japanese noodles I have tasted yet. Made with and 8 hour bone broth, the curry was rich and aromatic, accented by ginger. Tempura was light and crispy. The set also included three delicious small appetizers and dessert of strawberry shortcake and a scoop of milk ice cream. Service was excellent, and we left with happy bellies.
After viewing Takashi Murakami’s artwork at The Broad, I grew more excited to see his solo exhibition – his first in Japan since 2001 – at Mori Art Museum. The 500 Arhats sounded promising, especially given its large scale and collaborative effort.
Despite all of Murakami’s references to Japanese culture and traditions, I was surprised to see a familiar woodland spirit. Could it be? As it turns out, yes, it actually did refer to Princess Mononoke, a Ghibli film.
In art classes, it seemed that a few of my professors did not consider commercial art as true art. This was a concept that I struggled to wrap my head around – in my mind, Murakami could do both, and the lines between the two could be blurred successfully. Seeing his works reminds me of when he aptly describes an Artforum cover, “It’s a photograph of an African man at the Venice Biennale sewing a fake Louis Vuitton bag with my monogram on it. That photograph captured everything: the fake and the real, Japanese culture, consumer society, capitalism, copy and original – everything in one image.”