While the highly anticipated Studio Ghibli theme park is expected to open in four years’ time, Studio Ghibli is more than just the Japanese counterpart of Disney. In a country that is known for its booming animation industry and visual pop culture, many expats and travellers may have already some knowledge of the famed Japanese studio even before they visit Japan. It’s a studio that has produced movies that are beloved by many all over the world.
So if you’re planning on a Ghibli-inspired trip here in Japan even before the theme park opens in 2022, you definitely have got to check out the Studio Ghibli Museum first. However, there are also a number of other real-life locations in the country that has made ties with Studio Ghibli that are also a must-see. In this post, we give you the rundown of 5 of these cool spots:
Here are 5 Studio Ghibli Movie Locations to Visit when in Japan
- Explore the Studio Ghibli Museum.
If you’re on for a Studio Ghibli-inspired tour, there’s no other place to visit first but the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo. It’s hard to miss the lovely quirkiness of the place as the coloured exterior of the museum is teeming with vines creeping from the sides of it. Up front, you’ll be greeted by the mythical creature “Totoro” stationed inside a box office window. Atop the museum, you’ll see the long-armed steampunk robot from the movie “Castle in the Sky” standing watch over the perimeter, as gargoyles were believed to do back in the old days.
Enter the museum and watch Studio Ghibli’s animated worlds come to life through spinning zoetropes, hand-operated animatics, as well as other trinkets and captivating exhibits with reference to some of the famous scenes from Studio Ghibli movies.
If you ascend further you will find children playing on a huge, fluffy version of the Catbus as seen in “My Neighbour Totoro”. Also, starting this month until November 2018, the Ghibli Museum will be recreating kitchens and food from its films as part of a special promotion called “Delicious! Animating Memorable Meals”.
Getting tickets to the museum can be a bit tricky though, with advance tickets on sale in Lawson every 10th of the month, so prior planning is a must.
2. Go on a peaceful walk along the “Whisper of the Heart” trail in Tama
For older fans of Studio Ghibli, the year 1995 was a memorable one as it was the year when the movie “Whisper of the Heart” was released. This is a film that helped make the John Denver song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” vastly known in Japan. As a tribute to this film, a map can be seen on the Keio line, lying outside the west exit of the Seiseki-Sakuragaoka station. The 20-minute walking course takes you to some of the scenic locations chosen for the backdrop of the movie.
Beside the map is a miniature mailbox modelled after the antique store where Shizuku, the lead character, meets the human-like cat statue, The Baron. Despite the fact that no antique store exists in real life, following the trail on the map will take you to the winding slope of Irohazaka-dori, the road where Shizuku zooms through the steps and scurries through traffic on her way to the library.
Along the trail, you’ll also see Konpiragu, the minor Shinto shrine which served as the model for the version in the movie where Shizuku’s schoolmate, Sugimura confesses his feelings for her.
The trail will take you through spots with an elevated vantage of the Tama skyline, as shown in the movie. The trail ends in a traffic roundabout with a tree in the middle of it similar to where the fictional antique store is located.
3. Check out the automaton clock show at Nittele Tower
The Nittele Tower is the headquarters of Nippon TV in Shiodome, Tokyo, where a huge automaton clock designed by Hayao Miyazaki himself can be found.
The unique structure can be seen at the façade of the building’s second level. The clock has a steampunk design reminiscent of the rooftop robot soldier at the Ghibli Museum or something that may have come from the movie “Howl’s Moving Castle” or “Castle in the Sky.” Around four to five times daily, the copper claw-footed attraction comes to life with animated figures, winding mechanical motion, and resounding metal gongs.
And while a crowd turns up a few minutes before the hourly shows, the sight of the clock alone should be enough for you to visit the location.
4. Enter the fuzzy world of “My Neighbour Totoro”
Even before plans for the upcoming Ghibli theme park were announced, the Aichi prefecture already had a spot on the Ghiibli map as the location holds a replica of Satsuki and Mei’s house from the film “My Neighbour Totoro”.
According to a 2013 survey, around 96 per cent of Japanese movie-goers had seen a Ghibli film, and most of which have seen the classic “My Neighbour Totoro”. It is exactly for this reason that the movie will serve as the basis for the first themed location of the Ghibli theme park.
Aichi was the host location for the 2005 World’s Fair in Seto and Nagakute. It was also the venue used for Expo Park where the Ghibli theme park is currently being constructed. Blueprints were designed to keep the area as synced with nature as possible. The plan was to use the existing clearings and to avoid any deforestation in the area.
For now, guests can hop aboard the magnetic levitation (MagLev) train, the Linimo, and pay a visit to see Satsuki and Mei’s house – all of which have been accessible to visitors since the 2005 Expo.
5. Get “Spirited Away” on an adventure in different islands.
If you’re planning a Ghibli tour in Japan, the central island of Honshu and its Chubu and Kanto regions should be a good place to start because these are the places where you’ll find the Ghibli Museum as well as the future Ghibli theme park. However, there are far many more Ghibli-related spots in the country which you should also check out on your tour. For one, fans of the movies “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke” should check out Sado Island where visitors can get on a tarai bune (traditional washtub boat) ride on azure waters to relive a scene from “Spirited Away”. Meanwhile, the Dogo Onsen located in Ehime on the island of Shikoku is the real-life reference of the the public bathhouse where the movie’s lead character, Chihiro, was kept to work as a servant of the witch Yubaba.
Trekkers on the heavily forested island of Yakushima sometimes put on tree spirit charms in reference to the place’s connection to Princess Mononoke. A spot on this island called Shiratani Unsuikyo had inspired the film’s animators, just as how Ghibli films are sure to inspire viewers of many generations to come.