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7 Spots in Japan That Inspired Ghibli Films

What do eight-armed bathhouse workers, whiskered shuttle buses, and curious fish have in common? They’re just some of the beloved characters pulled from the creative mind of quixotic animation legend Hayao Miyazaki. Often compared to Walt Disney for his enormous influence on animated films, Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli has enchanted the world with over three decades’ worth of iconic imagery and fantastic tales composed of equal parts cute and quirk. Fans in Japan often head to the Ghibli Museum in the west Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, but there are plenty of other ways to get your Ghibli fix. Travel to one of the sites below to explore the birthplaces of some of Miyazaki’s most iconic scenes and stories.

7 Spots in Japan That Inspired Ghibli Films

Index

  • Tomonoura

  • Shima Onsen

  • Dogo Onsen

  • Yakushima

  • Shirakami Sanchi

  • Yamate Italian Mountain Garden

  • Totoro's Forest

  • Tomonoura

    Tomonoura

    Tomonoura

    Ponyo, the eponymous fish heroine of Ghibli’s 2008 nautical adventure, was created during a two-month research trip to Tomonura. Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it: this tiny port town at the southern end of Hiroshima Prefecture’s Fukuyama City is small but incredibly picturesque. For the full scoop on its history, visit the Museum of History and Folklore, then walk along its coast for Ponyo-esque scenes of busy fishermen, bobbing boats and Edo-period stone lighthouses.

    鞆の浦
    Address
    広島県福山市鞆町鞆623-5
    Phone
    0849281042
  • Shima Onsen

    Shima Onsen

    Shima Onsen

    One of Ghibli’s most successful films, Academy Award-winning Spirited Away primarily takes place in the steamy enclaves of a towering bathhouse. The surrounding onsen town is based on Gunma Prefecture’s Shima Onsen, an old-school spot tucked at the bottom of a northwestern mountain range. It’s an area already famous for onsen, but Shima’s 40-or-so springs routinely land in Gunma’s top four spots to soak. Fans of Spirited Away may recognize its red-banistered bridges and neon-lit alleys of restaurants and small shops, but the centerpiece is Sekizenkan Ryokan. The traditional inn’s multi-story structure is a dead ringer for the onsen hotel where young Chihiro/Sen experiences her spiritual odyssey.

    Shima Onsen
    Address
    Gunma Pref. Agatsumagunnakanojoumachi Shima
    Phone
    0279642321
  • Dogo Onsen

    Dogo Onsen

    Dogo Onsen

    Spirited Away is far too epic to have but one source of inspiration, so fans can head to Matsuyama City in Ehima Prefecture to discover more of what sparked Miyazaki’s imagination. Centuries-old Dogo Onsen is like a cartoon come to life: second and third floors sprout from all angles, giving the site the mixed air of both palace and theme park. Like Mary Poppins’ magic bag, its reasonable exterior feels downright infinite from the inside, with winding staircases leading to indoor and outdoor baths.

    Dogo Onsen
    Address
    Ehime Pref. Matsuyamashi Dougoyunomachi
    Phone
    0899215141
  • Yakushima

    Yakushima

    Yakushima

    Subtropical cedar forests fill the island of Yakushima, a four-hour ferry ride from Kyushu’s southern coast. Miyazaki and his team came here for guidance while conjuring the world of Princess Mononoke, a nature-filled epic centering on a sprawling and tangled forest filled with open-mouthed tree spirits (“kodama” in Japanese). Parts of Yakushima experience near-constant rain, which can make for a wet trip but is a necessary component for the rich ecosystem that’s earned its designation as a national park and, in some areas, Natural World Heritage site. Massive cedar trees who’ve weathered thousands of years of wind and rain easily transport you to the world of feral wolf-child San and the rest of Mononoke’s beloved cast.

    Yakushima
    Address
    Kagoshima prefecture Kumage gun Yakushima cho
    Phone
    0997494010
  • Shirakami Sanchi

    Shirakami Sanchi

    Shirakami Sanchi

    Ghibli thinks big, so expect their inspiration to be just as expansive. More fuel for Princess Mononoke came from the northern tip of Honshu (Japan’s main island) via the lush folds of mountainous Shirakami Sanchi. Like Yakushima, Skirakami Sanchi holds World Heritage status, not only for its nature but for its diverse ecosystem of curious monkeys, black bears, and many distinct species of birds. Die-hard Mononoke fans should make an effort to see both Yakushima and Shirakami Sanchi to better understand and experience the true scope of its origin story.

    Shirakami-Sanchi
    Address
    Aomori Prefecture, Akita Prefecture
    Phone
  • Yamate Italian Mountain Garden

    Yamate Italian Mountain Garden

    Yamate Italian Mountain Garden

    Studio Ghibli’s canon isn’t all magic dust mites and shape-shifting raccoons. Up On Poppy Hill forgoes fantasy to tell a teenage love story set in 1960s Yokohama. At the center of narrative sits the Latin Quarter, a cherished house slated for demolition and which serves as a reference to a favorite Miyazaki trope: why are we so quick to destroy the past in pursuit of the future? Fans of the Latin Quarter’s mix of American Victorian and Art Nouveau architecture can see its real-life counterpart in Yokohama’s hilltop Yamate neighborhood: a two-story mansion designed by JM Gardiner and built in 1910.

    Yamate Italy Yama Garden
    Address
    Kanagawa Pref. Yokohamashi Naka-ku Yamatechou 16
    Phone
    0456628819
  • Totoro's Forest

    Totoro's Forest

    Totoro's Forest

    Despite being three decades old, Totoro–a forest spirit resembling a wild mix of furry creatures–endures as one of Ghibli’s best-known and most-loved creations. In a meta-cycle of life imitating art imitating life, the forested region in Saitama which initially inspired Ghibli’s masterpiece is now known as Totoro’s Forest, and Miyazaki has made generous donations to a national trust focused on protecting its land from developers. For the most Totoro-like experience, visit in the late spring or summer to wander through this leafy paradise in search of your own furry friend.

    Both Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have drawn inspiration from across Japan, but a new 200-acre theme park collecting their oeuvre will significantly one-up Mitaka’s Ghibli Museum. The tentatively-titled Studio Ghibli Theme Park is scheduled to open its gates in 2022–hot on the heels of what’s expected to be Miyazaki’s final film–giving fans a whole new way to immerse themselves in the mind of Miyazaki and co.

    Address
    埼玉県所沢市
    Phone
    0429476047
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