The coronavirus pandemic has hit many public-facing institutions hard but it has been especially difficult for the museum sector. Those without significant visitor numbers or government support have been hit harder than most. This is especially the case in Japan, where the Ghibli Museum looked as though it would be closing on a permanent basis earlier this year. The museum, located in the western city of Mitaka in greater Tokyo, first opened its doors in 2001. It is an iconic museum dedicated to the world-famous animated feature film studio of the same name. Perhaps best known for hit movies like My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away – which won an Oscar – the museum is full of memorabilia from the days when Studio Ghibli was the unparalleled champion of Japanese cinema internationally.
In May, the local government authorities in Mitaka decided that they had to help the museum. However, with insufficient public funds to draw upon to save one of the best-known tourist attractions in their city, they opted for a crowdfunding campaign instead. Initially, the powers-that-be thought that something in the region of 10 million yen would be a good target. That’s around £66,000 or $91,000 so the sums being asked to keep the museum open were quite modest by most museum’s standards. Nevertheless, no one knew whether the public would respond to the request for voluntary donations or not. In return for the generosity of Mitaka’s inhabitants, various Ghibli merchandise was offered. Some of it was unique which gave donors an additional incentive to give larger than usual sums.
According to Anime News Network, which reports on all news matters relating to Japanese anime culture, the initial target sum was exceeded within the first 24 hours of it being set, vastly outweighing expectations. Indeed, despite the crowdfunding campaign only being available to residents of Japan, the total collected soon more than doubled that which had been asked for. Even more remarkably, perhaps, this sum was raised from fewer than 3,000 individual donors. Clearly, the people of Japan did not want to see the museum close and were also tempted by the chance to own some one-of-a-kind movie memorabilia.
The crowdfunding campaign is currently set to run for the remainder of the year. In fact, the closure date is due on January 31st, 2022. Therefore, some at the museum have already started to think about what they will be able to do when the museum reopens fully in the post-pandemic world. Some have suggested that the museum might expand its Totoro area of the newly established Ghibli theme park. Others have said that an upgrade to the museum’s visitor facilities, not least its café, would be preferable. There again, there have also been calls for a new audio exhibit to be installed. This would be an experimental installation that would feature some of the aphorisms Hayao Miyazaki – the founder of the anime studio – was best-known for.
At the moment, however, the focus is on getting the museum up and running again. The hybrid museum – which is at once devoted to children’s films, technology as well as the fine arts – had to close last February under the Japanese government’s pandemic response. However, even once it was allowed to reopen, a combination of visitor caution and the reduced entry numbers that the continuing restrictions forced on the museum meant that it was struggling financially. Not only were staff worried about their future but money for standard maintenance and repairs was difficult to find, too.
Since the pandemic struck, some 1,500 enterprises in the region have either declared bankruptcy or shut down for the foreseeable future. The museum, which usually sees around 700,000 visitors in a normal year, it seems, will not be joining them. Mitaka city’s mayor expressed gratitude to the people of Japan for helping to keep the museum going. “I would like to express our thanks to everyone who has made a donation,” read a statement from the mayor on the official campaign website.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.