Hayao Miyazaki, the genius behind Studio Ghibli, is famous for his love of visiting locations around Japan to inspire his animations. From the quiet seaside towns of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea to the giant mansions in The Secret World of Arriety, the environments and cities are as much characters in his stories as any of the lively humans or flying pigmen.
We’ve talked about Studio Ghibli locations you can visit in Japan before. But there are more places that people can check out to experience Ghibli—some of which are almost identical to Miyazaki’s movies.
Miyazaki has been famously vague about the Ghibli movies’ inspirations. When asked about the locations his films are set in, he once cryptically said: “…the forest that has existed within the hearts of Japanese from ancient times.” In this follow-up to the above post, we’ve identified five more areas in Japan that inspired him.
1. My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is often considered Miyazaki’s masterpiece. When the Japanese polling site Research Panel asked fans what their favorite Studio Ghibli film was, it took almost a quarter of the votes.
Part of this popularity is thanks to its almost too-perfect-to-be-true natural setting. In fact, the animation is inspired by the Sayama Hills area of Saitama, just outside of Tokyo. The site has often been a homage for fans of Miyazaki, as not only can you see the areas that appear in his most famous anime, but you also get to see the area where the legendary anime artist grew up.
Being so close to the big city, it has been necessary to maintain funding for the area’s upkeep as Tokyo creeps ever closer. Miyazaki himself is responsible for preserving the natural environment, and it’s supported by the Foundation of Totoro no Furusato.
2. Castle in the Sky
Although Totoro won the fan vote, second place in the fan poll was Castle in The Sky. This popular anime started the Studio Ghibli boom, doing a similar thing for Miyazaki that Fantasia did for his American equivalent, Walt Disney.
However, the success of both animations is where the comparisons end, as while Fantasia was a wonderful world of fantasy and color, Castle in The Sky was a bittersweet look at a world suffering from warfare and piracy.
Appropriately, its real-world version, Tomogashima, Wakayama, has seen its fair share of violence, as the islands were used for forts to protect against an invasion from the air from the south. Walking through the area with its tight corridors and ruined defenses will soon help you appreciate what likely inspired Miyazaki, the powerful feeling of history and the harsh conditions of the people who fought wars.
3. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea
Whereas Castle in The Sky and Totoro enjoy the public’s love, on the other hand, Ponyo is often (unfairly in my opinion) misaligned as one of Ghibli’s lesser animations. While it lacks the epic scope of Princess Mononoke, Ponyo is a relatable animation, and a big part of this is thanks to its location.
From the winding roads to the delightful, red-roofed houses to the fishing ports, the fictional home of Ponyo and Sosuke always feels like the sort of special place where magical adventures could happen.
One of the more memorable scenes is when Ponyo races through the town to the lighthouses. The red-roofed cottages that she races past are a popular attraction of Tomonoura in Hiroshima, where Miyazaki’s team stayed for months during the film’s early production. As a result, the town is recreated faithfully in the animation, and as a bonus, Tomonoura’s (Hiroshima) lighthouse can also be seen in a couple of key points.
4. Spirited Away
The movie of Spirited Away draws from an array of real-world locations to make its otherworldly appearance. So naturally, because of the importance of onsens in the animation, many real-world bathhouses were reimagined. Sekizenkan (Shima Onsen in Gunma) and Kanaguya (Shibu Onsen in Nagano) are two likely influences with similar atmospheres and appearances to the animations. Dogo Onsen is thought to be the film’s biggest inspiration.
One of the fantastic things about Miyazaki was his ability to combine various places into a stew of inspiration. The architecture that surrounds Chihiro is inspired by sites such as Hotel Meguro Gajoen in Tokyo, Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Toshogu Shrine in Nikko and even Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum.
5. The Secret World of Arrietty
The Secret World of Arrietty remains one of Ghibli’s most international movies, where Miyazaki drew from European sources, especially Mary Norton’s masterpiece The Borrowers. In the story, Miyazaki takes European and Japanese influences and combines them into something magical and unique. As he was making the animation, Miyazaki spent a lot of time in Seibien Gardens in Aomori, which has a similar mixture of Eastern and Western inspirations to the resultant anime.
Its famous building has a Japanese-style first floor, while the second floor is Western-style, going from Japanese gardens to quaint tables and chairs that the staff of the famous British drama, Downtown Abbey, might use offers a unique experience.
One of the fascinating things about visiting the locations that inspired Miyazaki is that many of them are similar to the animations themselves, whether it’s the dual faces of Seibien or the war-torn ruins of Tomogashima. So enjoy these Ghibli locations where you can not only experience the real-life magic but gain a deeper understanding of the animations they inspired.
Have you visited any Studio Ghibli inspirations in Japan? What was it like? ANy that we missed? Let us know in the comments!