One of our first infractions at Ghibli Park was lifting our 1-year-old on the polyester belly of a forest spirit creature. Another let him slide under a barricade and shelter inside a furry bus with cat eyes for headlights.

“He’s not following protocol,” I told my wife, as the staff manning the cat bus play zone looked on worriedly.

“He makes fun of it,” she said. But we didn’t stop him.

Ghibli Park, which opened in November outside Nagoya, Japan, pays homage to the eccentric, enchanting films of Studio Ghibli, a company co-founded in the 1980s by director Hayao Miyazaki. We took our two toddlers there because their favorite movie is “My Neighbor Totoro,” Miyazaki’s beloved 1988 film starring the spirit creature and his cat-bus sidekick.

As parents, we thought it would be fun for our boys, 3 and 1, to experience a “Totoro” immersion. And as longtime Ghibli fans, we wanted to see what the place looked like.

American visitors may wonder how Ghibli Park compares to Disney World. Really not. It feels much more low-key and has no rides, exotic animals, jumbo turkey legs or animatronic US presidents, among other things. The main point is to wander around soaking up Miyazaki vibes.

Also, the park is not finished. Grafted onto an existing municipal park, it opened late last year, but as of early July only three of five planned ticket offices were open. When I booked for a June visit, tickets to only one of those sites — a building called “Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse” — were available to international visitors booking through the park’s website. (It was possible to order the other two sites through Japanese travel agencies, but I only learned that much later, from a Japanese speaker.)

Susan Napier, a biographer of Mr. Miyazaki at Tufts University who visited Ghibli Park in April, told me it struck her as “a work in progress.” She also described the ticketing process, which included lotteries and long online queues, as “byzantine and not fun.”

Perhaps that’s why Studio Ghibli itself seems ambivalent about promoting Ghibli Park. In Japan, it ran ads advising fans to “take your time” when visiting.

A hypothetical theme park celebrating Nintendo or Pokemon, two other iconic Japanese creative brands, would almost certainly feel more Disney World-like, said Matt Alt, the author of the 2021 book “Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World.” But he added that the park’s diffuse layout and modest marketing were in character for a studio co-founded by Mr. Miyazaki, a director who has never hidden his anti-capitalist politics.

Ghibli Park is not a place to “turn your brain off,” Mr. Alt told me. “It requires a level of intellectual engagement that most parks don’t.” When I booked our visit, in March, a little mental stimulation sounded nice. I imagined wandering the grounds in dappled sunlight, meditating on Mr. Miyazaki’s cinematic work while our boys paused to gather acorns — just like the two sisters who star in “Totoro” do. (The boys, who are Anglo-American, love the glans scenes so much that they learned the Japanese word for the nut, donguri, before the English.)

In reality, we arrived just before our three-hour afternoon visiting slot at Ghibli’s Great Warehouse, and our intellectual capacity was limited. Our parenting nerves were frayed by the hour long trip from Nagoya and the general struggle of moving tiny, diapered people around an unfamiliar place.

Our morning in Nagoya was already marred by a 4am wake up call and some public displays of uncontrolled childish emotion. On the grounds of the 17th century Nagoya Castlefor example, our 3-year-old, nicknamed T, started crying when he learned that the castle was closed for renovation.

To break his mood, we took the urgent measure of buying him and his brother, nicknamed B, ice creams as a second breakfast. That stopped the crying, but our growing tiredness raised the stakes for our visit to Ghibli Park. Would the journey to meet our favorite magical creatures be worth all the time, money and energy it would entail?

Ghibli Park may see a bump in domestic tourism this summer as Mr. Miyazaki released a new film in Japan this month. But, for my family, making a pilgrimage there was all about seeing Totoro and the cat bus.

“Totoro” follows the two sisters, Mei, 4, and Satsuki, 10, as they move into a spooky house in the Japanese countryside with their father, an archaeologist. Their mother is stuck in a nearby sanatorium, suffering from a secret illness.

After Mei meets Totoro by stumbling into its cave inside a giant camphor tree (and falls asleep on its belly), she and her sister encounter the creature a few more times and learn more about its magical powers. Later, as their mother’s condition seems to worsen, they call in some very important favors from Totoro and the wild-eyed cat bus.

Professor Napier told me that “Totoro” illustrates an aesthetic that runs through the Ghibli catalog, and which tends to be more ambiguous and subtle than Disney’s. She described it as “the immersive, restrained magic of being a human connected with other things.”

“It’s a world you like,” Professor Napier, who is writing a book comparing Ghibli to Disney, said of Mr. Miyazaki’s animated universe. “But it’s also full of the unexpected and complex, and sometimes scary.”

Totoro and the cat bus can be a bit scary, especially when they flash their teeth. But the movie is much sweeter than it is scary. It’s set in a “time before television,” as Mr. Miyazaki once told an interviewer, and infused with sublime, hand-drawn pastoral imagery — pastel sunsets, a snail crawling up a plant stem — that makes you wish you were a kid growing up. up in a rural idyll.

The film also celebrates a child’s sense of wonder. Mr. Miyazaki created “Totoro” with children in mind — he said he hoped it would make them pick acorns — and many critics saw it as an ode to childhood innocence. It is no coincidence that Totoro and the cat bus are visible only to the sisters, not to adults.

Maybe that’s why I still cry every time I watch the end credits roll: “Totoro” reminds me that my boys will never be that young or innocent again.

In our Seoul apartment, they play with Totoro and catbus dolls, sleep in Totoro pajamas and sit on a Totoro potty. Their enthusiasm is so intense that my mother-in-law bought us tickets to the stage adaptation of “Totoro” at the Barbican Theater on our last trip to London.

In Nagoya, before we left for Ghibli Park, B showed his enthusiasm by bringing a plastic cat bus to the hotel buffet — and feeding it a breakfast of whipped cream. He also showed the toy to a man in a ninja costume who posed for a selfie with us outside the castle.

The ninja cracked a knowing smile, indicating that he was also a fan of “Totoro”. “Catbus,” he said in Japanese, as if the phrase were a code word.

Ghibli Park is located in Nagakute, a small town in the hills outside of Nagoya, a few stops down the highway from Ikea. There is no Ghibli entrance gate, exactly; you just wander in an unremarkable city park and look around at the Ghibli sites you booked tickets for months in advance.

The Grand Warehouse is an elegant, multi-story building the size of a modest shopping mall or sports arena, with plenty of sunlight streaming in through skylights. It sits near a grassy lawn, an ice rink and some future Ghibli sites that are under construction.

Inside, there are replicas of structures from the films, including the towering bathhouse from the Oscar-winning 2001 film “Spirited Away,” and dozens of made-for-Instagram images of Ghibli scenes and props.

The attention to detail is striking. In an area dedicated to the Ghibli film “Arietty”, I saw a giant drop of plastic dew attached to a giant fake flower, for example. Nearby was an intricately detailed replica of the castle from “Howl’s Moving Castle,” my older son’s favorite Miyazaki film after “Totoro.”

“The castle, dad!” 3 year old T said with glee. Finally, a Japanese castle that didn’t make him cry.

The problem was that most of the scenes were crowded with Ghibli fans – and lines we didn’t have time to stand with restless toddlers. The building’s only restaurant was similarly oversubscribed. We eventually found a kiosk promotional cake, but the staff said the cake was out of stock.

After about an hour of looking around the warehouse, we headed to “Children’s City”, a playground dedicated to scenes from “Totoro” and other Ghibli films.

Children’s City has three rooms. The first is a maze combining scenes from more Ghibli films than I could count: The orange train from “Laputa: Castle in the Sky”, the bakery from “Kiki’s Delivery”, etc. The boys loved it, even if dad bumped his head following them through a crawl space.

The other rooms were dedicated to “Totoro” and had mercifully higher ceilings. It was the house where Mei and Satsuki live with their dad. There was the camphor tree, where giant Totoro lay kingly next to some oversized donguri. And in the far corner sat the majestic, furry cat bus.

Everything looked fun, friendly and immersive — almost, in fact, like something you’d find at Disney World. The boys were in heaven.

“Toe row! Toe row!” B said, standing inside the tree, in the same intonation as the movie’s rousing, marching band-style theme song.

“Hey, Totoro!” said T, who was carefully inspecting the giant acorns. “Wake up!”

But even though Children’s City seemed designed to nurture the child’s sense of wonder that Mr. Miyazaki celebrates in his films, the warehouse staff informed us of several rules that dampened the atmosphere. In particular, it was forbidden to put children on Totoro’s plush belly, or to allow them to play inside the catbus zone for more than three minutes – even if the zone was not crowded, which it was not.

The staff were polite, but their rules made little sense for children as small as ours. I wondered if this was another sign that Ghibli Park was still a little rough around the edges. Take your time to visit, as the studio says.

We reluctantly agreed to the no wind policy, but B wanted to play anywhere but inside the cat bus. We were with him. We spent several months – a good part of his life! — waiting for this moment.

The staff, sensing our resolve, offered a compromise. A special time extension could be granted under the circumstances, they said. Rather than the usual three minutes, our B could have six.

Make that nine. Then 12. And so on. At 5 pm, he was among the last, and smallest, Ghibli fans to leave the building.

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