5 Real Places in Japan That Popular Studio Ghibli Scenery Were Based On: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and More!
Animated movies by the director Hayao Miyazaki are all classics that are popular not just in Japan, but all around the world. This article introduces places in Japan that closely resemble scenes in five of his most famous animated movies.
1. Princess Mononoke: Shirakami Sanchi
Princess Mononoke was released in 1997. Ashitaka, the protagonist, embarks on a journey to rid himself of a curse and meets Princess Mononoke, who was abandoned by humans and brought up by wolves. This is a profound film that inspires one to think about the coexistence of man and nature.
Princess Mononoke was set in Shirakami Sanchi, which spans the southwest of Aomori Prefecture and northwest of Akita Prefecture. It is a majestic and beautiful mountain range of peaks reaching 1,000m. It is said that Hayao visited Shirakami Sanchi himself. A pond that is just like Aoike Pond in Shirakami Sanchi appears in the movie. The highly transparent pond that shimmers blue is stunningly beautiful. The mystic scenery of the virgin tree forests closely reflects the world of Princess Mononoke.
Access: From Juniko Station on the JR Gono Line, take a Konan bus bound for Oku-Juniko Chushajo and alight at the last stop, Oku-Juniko Chushajo. Walk about ten minutes.
2. Spirited Away: Sekizenkan Ryokan at Shima Onsen
Spirited Away, which was released in 2001, was the highest box office earner in Japan among all Studio Ghibli films. It was also shown in 40 countries and was a great hit globally. In the movie, the protagonist Chihiro and her parents wander into a strange world. Chihiro's parents break the rules of this world and are turned into pigs. Chihiro stays and works in this strange world and overcomes numerous hardships in order to change her parents back into human beings and return to the world they came from.
The bathhouse in the movie is said to be modeled on Sekizenkan Ryokan at Shima Onsen, a hot spring inn in Gunma Prefecture with a history of over 300 years. You may recall Chihiro crossing a red bridge on her way to the bathhouse.
I have crossed the bridge myself and had the strange sensation that I had wandered into the world of Spirited Away!
Access: Approx. 20 minutes by taxi from Nakanojo Station on the JR Agatsuma Line.
3. My Neighbor Totoro: Hachikokuyama Park
My Neighbor Totoro was released in 1988. It is a story of Satsuki and Mei, the two protagonists, meeting and befriending a strange creature called Totoro whom only children can see. It was released not just in Japan, but in numerous other countries, including the US and China.
Sayama Hills which sits at the border of Saitama Prefecture and Tokyo Prefecture is known as one of the places that the movie was set in. There are many parks and greenlands in Sayama Hills, among which Hachikokuyama Park feels particularly like the forest that Totoro lives in. Take a stroll through the greenlands of this park and you'll no doubt feel like Totoro may make an appearance at any moment.
Shin-Yamanote Hospital, which was the model for Shichikokuyama Hospital, where Satsuki and Mei's mother was in the movie, is also on the grounds of Hachikokuyama Park.
Access: 3-minute walk from Seibuen Station
4. Whisper of the Heart: Seiseki-sakuragaoka Station
In the movie, Whisper of the Heart, which was released in 1995, the protagonist Shizuku Tsukishima is a bookworm. One day, she looks through the names on the checkout card of a book she has borrowed from the library, and notices the name Seiji. In doing so, she realizes that all the books she borrowed were previously checked out by Seiji. Later, she meets a boy and learns that he is Seiji Amasawa. This film is a heartwarming coming-of-age story about two teenagers.
If you look closely around Seiseki-sakuragaoka Station in Tokyo, you'll see many spots depicted in the movie. There is a long hill that often appeared in the film, such as when Shizuku went to the library to see her father who worked there or to borrow a book. That hill is Iroha Hill in Seiseki-sakuragaoka.
Kotohira-gu, which was the model for the Shinto shrine where a schoolmate, Sugimura, confesses his feelings for Shizuku, is also in this area. I have been myself and was touched by the feel of the area that was so much like the movie that I wanted to see the film again.
Access: Approx. 30 minutes to Seiseki-sakuragaoka Station from Shinjuku Station.
5. Castle in the Sky: Tomogashima Islands
In Castle in the Sky, which was released in 1986, the protagonist Pazu meets a girl, Sheeta, who has fallen out of an airship. Sheeta's life is saved by an amulet made of a stone called "hikoseki" (levitation stone). Pazu and Sheeta embark on a trip to a floating island named Laputa in search of the mystery behind the hikoseki.
Although the story is officially said to be modeled on Wales in the UK, there is also an island in Japan that Laputa may have been inspired by. It is an uninhabited island called Tomogashima in Wakayama Prefecture. There are many ruins on the island, giving it a unique, eerie atmosphere. It has such a similar feel to Laputa that you may expect characters from the story to suddenly appear.
Tomogashima is a place with a connection to Ghibli that I would like to visit myself one day.
Access: Approx. 20 minutes on a ferry from Kada Port.
Every Ghibli movie is memorable for their beautiful illustrations and depictions. Don't you think they make a great incentive to learn more about Japan?
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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