- Spirited Away (2001)
- > 1. Shima Onsen / Sekizenkan (Gunma Prefecture)
- > 2. Shimonada Station (Ehime Prefecture)
- My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
- > 3. Sayama Hills (Saitama Prefecture)
- > 4. Satsuki and Mei’s House (Aichi Prefecture)
- > 5. Catbus at Totoro Pass (Hokkaido)
- Princess Mononoke (1997)
- > 6. Yakushima / Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine (Kagoshima Prefecture)
- Castle in the Sky (1986)
- > 7. Tomogashima Islands / Okinoshima (Wakayama Prefecture)
- Ponyo (2008)
- > 8. Tomonoura (Hiroshima Prefecture)
- From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
- > 9. Harbor View Park (Kanagawa Prefecture)
- > 10. Yamashita Park (Kanagawa Prefecture)
- The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
- > 11. Seibien Garden (Aomori Prefecture)
- Enjoy the world of Studio Ghibli!
Studio Ghibli films have a distinct, fascinating charm to them that draws us in. The popularity of Studio Ghibli films is now worldwide, and fans of films like “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro” exist worldwide. Many dream to experience entering the world of these magical films, and surprisingly, there are places in Japan that can allow us to do so. Here are 12 locations in Japan that resemble, mimic, or have even inspired some of your favorite Studio Ghibli Films.
Spirited Away (2001)
“Spirited Away” is one of Miyazaki’s most renown works, and has even won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
The story of "Spirited Away" follows a 10 year old girl, Chihiro, who gets lost in a mysterious and unfamiliar world of ghosts, monsters, and spirits. There are two real-life locations in Japan that will take you into the world of “Spirited Away”.
1. Shima Onsen / Sekizenkan (Gunma Prefecture)
Sekizenkan Honkan (photo courtesy: ググッとぐんま写真館)
Shima Onsen, located in Gunma prefecture, is a hot spring that has been loved for centuries.
One of the ryokan (traditional Japanese style accommodation) facilities here, Sekizenkan, is reminiscent of the building in “Spirited Away”.
Sekizenkan at night. Miyazaki says this bathhouse inspired the building in "Spirited Away"
Miyazaki has even confirmed himself that Sekizenkan was one of the inspirations in creating “Spirited Away”. The red bridge, the wooden architecture, and the overall atmosphere of Sekizenkan is almost identical to the world of “Spirited Away”. Travelers who were previously mesmerized by the world of "Spirited Away" may stop in their tracks to the breathtaking sight.
Sekizenkan was built in 1691, and is Japan’s oldest wooden bathhouse facility. It offers a unique accommodation style, called “toji”, where visitors are expected to stay for a longer period of time than usual.
2. Shimonada Station (Ehime Prefecture)
The second location we introduce in this article is reminiscent of a certain scene in "Spirited Away". Shimonada Station, on the JR Yosan Line in Ehime prefecture, is known as the station closest to the sea. The station platform is unstaffed and minimal, and the view of the Iyo Sea from it is breathtaking.
About a 15-minute walk away from Shimonada Station, you will find a railroad that continues into the sea. If you’ve seen “Spirited Away”, then this view should ring a bell.
Railroad continuing into the sea. Does this remind you of a scene from "Spirited Away"?
In "Spirited Away", Chihiro goes on a train whose railroad continues into the sea. This “railroad”, however, is actually a device to help hoist ships up onto land. The waters of the sea are very clear, making the “railroad” seem just like the one in “Spirited Away”.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
A Ghibli classic, “My Neighbor Totoro”, is another film that has gained international praise. Totoro, a big, furry, friendly forest spirit, is an iconic animation character that is loved throughout generations.
In the film, two sisters, Satsuki and Mei, move into the countryside with their father to be closer with their ill mother. Mei encounters Totoro in the nearby woods, and their friendship blooms into something special for Mei.
3. Sayama Hills (Saitama Prefecture)
Sayama Hills lies across Saitama and Tokyo prefectures, and has a spacious area of 3,500 hectares. These hills are said to be one of the inspirations behind the sceneries in “My Neighbor Totoro”, and the woods are nicknamed "Totoro Forest”.
As you walk through the woods, you will feel as if you will bump into Totoro any second. As you walk along the path, you will reach Sayama Lake. On clear days, you will be able to see Mount Fuji from here.
The Sayama Hills course begins at Kurosuke’s House. The house is made in a traditional Japanese house, and has a history of over 100 years. It is very similar to the house that Satsuki and Mei move into in the film, and inside, you can find a big Totoro plush. You can also purchase Totoro goods that can only be found at Kurosuka’s House.
4. Satsuki and Mei’s House (Aichi Prefecture)
Replica of Satsuki and Mei’s House
At Aichi Expo Park, made in 2005 to commemorate the Aichi Expo, you can find Satsuki and Mei’s House.
The house is made extremely alike to the one in the film. The exterior of the house, the study, laundry room, halls and more are all made precisely to match the scenes in the movie.
Although you can buy the tickets for Satsuki and Mei’s house on the day of, reserving them before your visit is highly recommended, as the house is a popular tourist attraction.
5. Catbus at Totoro Pass (Hokkaido)
Catbus at Totoro Pass (credit: @ukiyoshi0222)
Totoro Pass locates in the city of Fukagawa in western Hokkaido. On Totoro Pass, you can find the Catbus, which many of you may know from the film.
The bus was originally used as a resting space for local farmers. In 1998, locals re-painted the exterior of the bus in the design of the Catbus. It doesn’t look exactly like the real Catbus from the movie, but this is still a famous spot for Totoro fanatics.
Although in the movie, the Catbus is something that only children can see, the Catbus at Totoro bus is visible to all visitors. Anyone can visit and ride on the Catbus!
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke is another Ghibli classic. It was Japan’s highest grossing film in 1997, and had the box record for a Japanese film until it was beaten by Spirited Away in 2001.
This vivid, fascinating film tells the tale of a young prince, Ashitaka, caught between saving a lush forest and allowing an industrial town to thrive. Through his journeys, he encounters Princess Mononoke, the princess of the forest who was raised by the wolf-god.
6. Yakushima / Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine (Kagoshima Prefecture)
Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine
Yakushima is an island off of the southern coast of Kagoshima prefecture in the Kyushu region. The island is renowned for its scenic and historical charms, such as the Jomon Cedar grove, with Jomon Cedar trees aging over 3,000 years old. Director Hayao Miyazaki himself visited Yakushima several times before creating “Princess Mononoke”.
The field moss at Yakushima is sometimes referred to as “Japan’s precious field of moss”. The vivid green moss covering the grounds and wrapping around the trees creates scenery that looks just like the forest in the movie.
At Shiratani Unsuikyo Gorge, there are three trekking courses for you to choose from. The three courses follow different routes, offering three varying ways to enjoy the forest.
Castle in the Sky (1986)
“Castle in the Sky” is the first Studio Ghibli film ever released. The movie has served as an inspiration for many other works of cinematography and even video games, such as the “Final Fantasy” series.
In “Castle in the Sky”, a young boy, Pazu, meets Sheeta, a mysterious girl, who has a magical crystal in her possession. Whilst keeping the crystal safe, the two set out on an adventure to find Laputa, the legendary castle in the sky.
7. Tomogashima Islands / Okinoshima (Wakayama Prefecture)
Tomogashima Islands lie on the northwestern coast of Wakayama prefecture. It is made up of four uninhabited islands: Jinoshima, Torajima, Kamishima and Okinoshima. Okinoshima, in particular, is famous for its ruins of wartime fortresses. The buildings on the island and the overall atmosphere have vibes that are very similar to Laputa.
The third fortress
On the island, there is a hiking course that allows you to tour the ruins. The third fortress, pictured above, has an ammunition depot that is made of bricks, and is covered in vines and moss.
You can visit Okinoshima via ferry. One day is enough for the tour, so you can go in the morning and come back in the evening.
“Ponyo”, released in 2008, is a film that won the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the year. Though Studio Ghibli had used CGI animation for several of its works since the mid 2000s, all 170,000 frames for “Ponyo” were hand-drawn.
The story revolves around a goldfish girl named Ponyo, and a 5-year old boy named Sousuke. Ponyo yearns to become human, and she must undergo conflict with her father and her native habitat in order to do so.
8. Tomonoura (Hiroshima Prefecture)
The port town of Tomonoura
Tomonoura is a port town on the southern coast of Hiroshima prefecture in the city of Fukuyama. The town is famous for its retro streets that have no changed much from the mid-Edo period (1603 – 1867). It is speculated that director Hayao Miyazaki was inspired during his stay in Tomonoura when conceptualizing “Ponyo”.
The many ships by the port and the traditional style Japanese houses in Tomonoura are reminiscent of the town seen in the film. There is a park in the film called Maeyama Park (前山公園; literally translating to “front mountain park”), and in Tomonoura, you can find a park named Ushiroyama Park (後山公園; translating to “rear mountain park), and the two look very similar.
View of Tomonoura
From Ioji Temple’s Taishiden hall, you can see this stunning view of the entire town of Tomonoura.
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
“From Up on Poppy Hill” is a film based on the 1980s manga series of the same name. It was directed by Goro Miyazaki, the eldest son of Hayao Miyazaki, and is his second work.
The story is set in Yokohama in the 1960s, and follows a high school student, Umi, and a group of her friends. Their school’s clubhouse is in danger, as it is about to be demolished in order to use the space for the upcoming 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
9. Harbor View Park (Kanagawa Prefecture)
Harbor View Park and the view of the Port of Yokohama
Harbor View Park is known as one of the best spots for a view of the Port of Yokohama. This is where Umi’s boarding house, Coquelicot Manor, is located in the film. Studio Ghibli has officially stated that they modeled the location in the movie based on Harbor View Park.
The international maritime signal flag
The two international maritime signal flags waved in the movie can be found at Harbor View Park. The two flags are the U flag and the W flag, and together they represent the message “I wish you a pleasant voyage”.
10. Yamashita Park (Kanagawa Prefecture)
Yamashita Park allows for a spacious, beautiful view of the Port of Yokohama. In “From Up on Poppy Hill”, Umi walks along the waterfront at Yamashita Park with her friend Shun.
View of Yokohama Marine Tower
The Hikawamaru Ship and the Yokohama Marine Tower are both visible from the park. The view is of the two Yokohama landmarks are also featured in the movie.
The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
“The Secret World of Arrietty” was director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s debut work. It is based on the book “The Borrowers”, written by Mary Norton in 1952.
Arrietty and her family are “borrowers”, who are a group of little people (measuring around 10cm tall), and make their living by borrowing items from humans. They are not to be noticed by humans, but one day, Sho a human boy, notices Arrietty borrowing from his house, and their interactions begin.
11. Seibien Garden (Aomori Prefecture)
Seibien Garden locates in Aomori prefecture’s city of Hirakawa. The garden is made in the bugaku-ryu style, a style native to the Tsugaru (northern Aomori) region. It is considered one of the three famous gardens of the Meiji period (1868 – 1912). The old, Meiji-era style houses in the garden premise are said to be the models for the houses seen in the film.
As you walk through the garden, you will find Seibikan, a building with Japanese-style architecture on the first floor and western-style architecture on the second floor. This building in particular is reminiscent of the one that Sho and Arrietty’s families live in.
Enjoy the world of Studio Ghibli!
You can fly throughout the country search for these Studio Ghibli movie spots. However, there is a place in Tokyo that could successfully fulfill your Studio Ghibli needs in one day.
The Ghibli Museum, Mitaka (Tokyo)
The Ghibli Museum, Mitaka
The Ghibli Museum, Mitaka is an original musum by none other than Studio Ghibli themselves. They feature the behind the scenes items and footage of Ghibli films, and even have limited edition short animations that are only aired at the museum.
Totoro awaits you at the museum entrance.
Totoro at the ticket booth
Inside the museum is a Studio Ghibli wonderland. On the stained glass windows you will find designs of Totoro, Ponyo and other Studio Ghibli characters, and on the ceiling are also replicas of characters and items from Ghibli movies.
All tickets for the Ghibli Museum, Mitaka are reservation-only. Tickets are sold on the 10th of each month for the following month. You can check out LAWSON TICKET for more information.
Come to Japan and experience the world of Ghibli!
If you’re not too familiar with Studio Ghibli movies, make sure to try seeing a few to add a flare to your sightseeing adventures in Japan. For those who have mastered the Ghibli films, these 12 spots mentioned above are going to be dream-like destinations. Get transported to the worlds of "Spirited Away", "Totoro", "Castle in the Sky", and more!