Most people know about Studio Ghibli and its famous animated films that feature delightful characters, unforgettable storylines, and breathtaking scenery. Some may have watched every single film (perhaps twice or even three times), but not many know that numerous scenes found in the films are based on real locations in Japan.
For those who have yet to dive into the “real” world of Ghibli, here’s a guide to 10 locations in Japan that have either inspired or are based on films like My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, and more!
1. Totoro’s Forest (My Neighbour Totoro)
Located between Tokyo and Saitama, Totoro’s Forest is a place of luscious greenery that promises the same kind of relaxation that Totoro and the other forest spirits enjoyed so much.
Like Mei, visitors can trek along the forest trails for some fresh air and maybe even a bit of an adventure. Each step is sure to bring back memories of the film.
If you’re wondering whether or not you can actually find Totoro in the forest… the answer is yes! Along with his companions, Totoro is there to greet visitors at Kurosuke’s House, a historical building that offers great memories and merchandise with proceeds going towards forest preservation.
2. Satsuki and Mei’s House (My Neighbour Totoro)
Satsuki and Mei’s House in Aichi Prefecture is a fantastic replica of the house found in the film. It’s also an incredibly popular attraction for Totoro fans and those on “Ghibli pilgrimages.” When you see the bus stop, you’ll know you’re close!
The exterior has a neat retro-feel from the 1950’s that makes for wonderful photos! Be sure to reserve your tickets early and ask the staff members to take a photo of you with your best pose (or cosplay).
During the tour, you will have the chance to see the interior that has been carefully put together to look just like it does in the film. Keep your eyes peeled for Satsuki and Mei’s hats, the bucket with a hole on the bottom, and more details that Totoro fans will surely appreciate!
3. Yufuin Floral Village (Kiki’s Delivery Service)
Kiki’s Bakery, located in the Yufuin Floral Village of Oita Prefecture, is a real bakery that’s filled with Kiki-inspired treats! For those who simply cannot choose between all the deliciousness, there are also heart-shaped signs that say “Kiki’s recommendation.” If Kiki says it’s good, it’s bound to be true!
While it’s not an exact replica of the place she worked and lived in, the old-English style exterior offers its own flavor. At Yufuin Floral Village, you’ll feel like you’re in a completely different world!
If the sign outside and the treats inside aren’t enough to satisfy your craving for Kiki details, be sure to hang out with Jiji near the entrance and get some cute selfies in!
4. Ryokan Kanaguya (Spirited Away)
Located in Nagano Prefecture, this famous ryokan (Japanese-style inn) became a National Cultural Asset in 2003 and is said to be one of the buildings the Aburaya in Spirited Away is modeled after.
Its classical architecture, relaxing hot spring baths, and splendid hospitality provides a traditional sense of warmth that’s perfect for Ghibli fans (especially cosplayers!).
5. Sekizenkan Ryokan (Spirited Away)
While there are different opinions about which building resembles the Aburaya the most, many fans agree that the red bridge of Sekizenkan Ryokan in Gunma Prefecture is just like the one characters cross in Spirited Away.
A stroll across the bridge at night really makes you wonder just how many deities might be walking with you.
The Sekizenkan Ryokan boasts high-quality hot springs as well as the status of its main building as the oldest hot spring hotel in Japan. Here, visitors can truly enjoy hospitality fit for the gods. Oh, but there’s no need to worry – humans are definitely allowed!
6. Yakushima (Princess Mononoke)
Yakushima is an island in Kagoshima Prefecture that’s well-known for its cedar trees and mystical atmosphere. It’s a popular location for hikers and Ghibli fans alike for its natural beauty and similarities to the setting of Princess Mononoke (plus the possible presence of forest spirits).
The deeper you go, the more surreal your surroundings will become. If you have ever wanted to be part of a Ghibli film, Yakushima might be the closest you will get! Each sight and every new area you explore will surely bring back memories of the movie.
Stay for the magnificent sunset if you can and fully enjoy this mysterious “power spot” that has inspired so many.
7. Tomonoura Town (Ponyo)
The old port town of Tomonoura in Hiroshima Prefecture is where Hayao Miyazaki and his team stayed while they created the setting for Ponyo. It’s said that Tomonoura inspired the creation of the town Sosuke lived in.
After taking in the sights of this picturesque town, close your eyes and let the whispers of wind and waves take you away.
The beauty of Tomonoura has made it the home of not only Ponyo but also the filming location of The Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman.
8. Ryugu Sea Cave (Porco Rosso)
The mysterious Ryugu Sea Cave in Shizuoka Prefecture is said to be the secret hideout of Porco from Porco Rosso, the fighter ace and bounty hunter with the head of a pig.
Covered with beautiful trees and surrounded by clear waters, Ryugu Sea Cave sure does seem like a prime location for a fighter to relax with a drink and a good magazine.
It’s particularly beautiful on sunny days, and when you look down into the cave from above, you will see that it’s actually heart-shaped!
9. Seibien Landscape Garden (The Secret World of Arrietty)
Seibien is a designated historical site in Aomori Prefecture that offers a splendid garden environment as well as a chance to see the model of the house Arrietty lived in. The first floor is constructed in a Japanese style, while the second is in a Renaissance style.
It’s said that Studio Ghibli employees came up with the idea of the house in The Secret World of Arrietty after visiting. Soon after the film was released, Ghibli fans flooded the location to check it out for themselves.
The light rustling of the grass and the sight of birds soaring around certain areas of Seibien really make you wonder if a Borrower is somewhere out there, borrowing something that won’t be missed.
10. Seiseki Sakuragaoka Area (Whisper of the Heart)
Whisper of the Heart is said to be set in Seiseki Sakuragaoka, which is an area located in Tokyo. Although the film was first released in 1995, the area still attracts fans who wish to relive their favorite scenes.
While it may seem more modern than it did in the film, Seiseki Sakuragaoka still offers a sense of romance and nostalgia.
There’s a special guide map available that tells visitors the location of the flights of stairs that Shizuku took, the intersection she chased the cat across, and other places that fans certainly won’t want to miss out on.
While places such as Seiseki Sakuragaoka are recognized as the inspiration for certain films from Studio Ghibli, there is still plenty of speculation and debate about which ryokan or which cave other films are modeled after. The best way to find out is to carefully study the scenery in your favorite films and visit the locations for yourself!
This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.