If you’re one of the many Totoro fans who’s dreamed about riding the Catbus, you’re going to get your chance.
I think we can all agree that one of the most important things for elected officials and business leaders to do is to keep their promises. That sort of integrity is even more important when those promises involve letting people ride a Catbus in real life, so it’s good to see that Aichi Prefecture and Studio Ghibli anime theme park Ghibli Park are on course to follow through with the pledge they made back in February.
On Monday, Aichi governor Hideaki Omura and Studio Ghibli director Goro Miyazaki held a press conference to show the first preview images of the rideable Catbuses that will soon be running around Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park, the park in the town of Nagakute inside which Ghibli Park’s various non-connected sections are located. These real-life Catbuses are based on Toyota’s APM electric vehicle, which was originally designed for the Tokyo Olympics, but with multiple modifications to make them look, and feel, like the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro.
In addition to recreating the character’s expressive eyes, gigantic smile, and adorable paws and tail, the designers have selected a low-gloss paint, to avoid giving the Catbus an overly metallic shine. Then there’s the seat upholstery, which is a thick, fluffy material that evokes the fluffy interior of the in-anime Catbus. During the press conference, Miyazaki said that his father, Totoro director Hayao Miyazaki, is pleased with the design of the vehicle, calling it “Nice.”
In addition to the driver, the Catbus can hold five passengers, split between two bench seats, and the front bench can be folded away to accommodate wheelchair riders.
A total of five Catbuses will be going into service, and while the target rider demographic is clearly Ghibli fans, you won’t actually need a ticket to Ghibli Park to ride them. As mentioned above, Ghibli Park consists of multiple non-adjacent areas inside Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park, and the Catbus route is planned to run through part of the Expo Park itself. While the exact course has yet to be set, the most likely one will travel along a stretch of roughly 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) in the eastern section of the park, along service access roads not open to public foot traffic.
▼ Proposed course marked by red line. Visible on the map are the Ghibli Park sections Hill of Youth (青春の丘), Mononoke Village (もののけの里), Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse (ジブリの大倉庫), Valley of Witches (魔女の谷), and Dondoko Forest (どんどこ森), the last of which is Ghibli Park’s Totoro-themed area, so naturally the Catbus will run by it.
Riders will have to pay for a ticket to take the Catbus, but while both Ghibli Park and the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo have strict daily attendance caps that make advance reservations essentially required, there may or may not be a reservation system for the Expo Park Catbuses, with planners currently considering ticket sales through automated machines.
The Catbuses are scheduled to go into service in mid-March. Meanwhile, recruiting will start for drivers later this month, so if your plans to become a professional ninja didn’t pan out, you still have a shot at making your Japan dream job fantasy come true by becoming a Catbus driver.
Source: Aichi Prefecture, Chunichi Shimbun
Top image: Aichi Prefecture
Insert images: Aichi Prefecture, Studio Ghibli
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