People may have grew up with Disney movies, but it’s Studio Ghibli’s films that stay with the heart long after.

Studio Ghibli is possibly the most famous Japanese animation studios in the world, home to cult-classic films like the Oscar-winning ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’. A defining feature of the films, and also the reason why it is loved by so many, is the beautiful background art that lends a unique visual identity to the studio. This outstanding visualisation is credited to the studio’s directors, namely Hayao Miyazaki and the recently departed Isao Takahata, who were famously known to visit real-life locations in Japan for inspiration.

All these years, their films could never be streamed on external sites legally, until Netflix released news that they would be the exclusive platform to showcase them from February 2020 onwards. Whether you’re a long-time fan or a wide-eyed newbie after the films are released on Netflix, we’ve rounded up some real-life locations in Japan that served as inspiration for the films, as well as how to get there for your next Ghibli pilgrimage.

The forest from ‘Princess Mononoke’

A UNESCO world heritage site, Yakushima Island is home to sacred trees that have been preserved for over 7000 years. Within the island lies the hauntingly beautiful Shiratani Unsiukuo Ravine, which served as inspiration for the visual design behind the forest in Princess Mononoke. The lead artist, Kazuo Oga spent painstaking hours detailing the trees, moss, vines and fog to bring out the mysterious atmosphere in the film.

How to get there

Yakushima iIsland is located in the southern tip of Japan, under the Kagoshima prefecture. The fastest and most convenient way to visit would be to take a one hour flight from Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) to Yakushima airport.

Ponyo’s Island from ‘Ponyo on the Cliff’

The port town portrayed in ‘Ponyo on the Cliff’ was modelled after Tomonoura. A fishing village overlooking the Seto Inland Sea, the town takes on a distinct horseshoe shape that is easily recognizable in the film. A trip there is a dream come true for fans of Ponyo, as the town has other elements of the film, like the red-roofed house which inspired Sosuke’s and Risa’s house as well. The fishing boats and the winding roads all appear in real life just like they did on screen.

How to get there

The fishing village of Tomonoura is located in Fukuyama city of Hiroshima Prefecture. Take a Shinkansen from Tokyo station, which is about a three and a half hour ride to Fukuyama. Then, take a short 30-minute bus ride to Tomo Port bus stop.

The bathhouse from ‘Spirited Away’

The iconic bathhouse’s exterior from ‘Spirited Away’ was said to be modelled after a few different onsens in Japan. However, the most famous source of inspiration is Dōgo Onsen. This old school hot spring resort has a history dating back more than a thousand years, and was originally designed by Matahachiro Sakamoto, a craftsman from a family of master carpenters who worked on the Matsuyama Castle. The multi-storied main building and its elaborate passageways closely resemble those in the film, making it a must-visit location for fans.

How to get there

Dōgo Onsen is located in Matsuyama city, the capital city of Ehime Prefecture. Take a flight from Tokyo International airport (Haneda) to Matsuyama Airport. From there, take a 40-minute bus ride to Dōgo Onsen station square.

The safflower field from ‘Only Yesterday’

‘Only Yesterday’ is one of the most realistic works from Studio Ghibli, although it is not the most popular one amongst the younger crowd. The film follows a young professional, Taeko, who is in desperate need of a break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. She then heads to the safflower fields of Yamagata to rekindle the innocence and joy she felt as a child. Even if you are not a fan of the film, Yamagata remains a peaceful location ready to embrace visitors in all of its serenity.

How to get here

The safflower fields are located in Yamagata Prefecture. Ride the JR Yamagata Shinkansen from Tokyo to Yamagata, which will take about two and a half hours. Transfer trains to the JR line and head towards Takase station. The safflower fields are a four-minute walk from Takase Station.

Hotel Kusakaru from ‘The Wind Rises’

Any fan of ‘The Wind Rises’ will recognise the pivotal role that Hotel Kusakaru plays in the film. It is here that Japanese aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi falls in love with the sickly Naoko. Although Hotel Kusakaru was a name thought up by Studio Ghibli, its architecture seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to the Kamikochi Imperial Hotel near the Japanese Alps. Details like the distinctive red roofs and the log-cabin exterior are mirrored in the film, so fans looking to recreate the love story between Jiro and Naoko can truly immerse themselves in this space.

How to get there

Kamikochi Imperial Hotel is located in Matsumoto city under the Nagano Prefecture. Take a three-hour ride onboard the Chuo Line express bus from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station to Matsumoto Station. From there, transfer to the Matsumoto Dentetsu Line to Shin-Shimashima Station and take the Matsumoto Dentetsu bus to the hotel.

The green forests from ‘My Neighbour Totoro’

Everyone has seen ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ at least once in their life — be it the actual film or just recognising the chubby rabbit-like character used on various merchandise.

The green forests that set the scene for the film were based off Sayama Hills. Miyazaki spent his childhood in this very area, which explains why the charming forest is an important source of inspiration for this classic film. Within Sayama Hills lies Kurosuke House, also known as ‘Totoro House’. It was named after the makkuro kurosuke, the soot spirits in the movie. The house has a life-sized version of Totoro sitting inside and some scenes from the movie on display for visitors to take pictures of as well.

How to get there

Sayama is located just 35 kilometres north of central Tokyo, bordering the Saitama Prefecture. From Tokyo Shinjuku station, take the Chuo line to Kokubunji Station. Transfer to to the Seibu-Tamako line and arrive at the Seibu Yuenchi station. Here, take the Seibu-Yamaguchi line to Seibukyujo Mae station. The journey should take about an hour and a half from Shinjuku, Tokyo.

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.

Jocelyn Tan
Writer
Jocelyn Tan is a travel and design writer. She's probably indulging in serial killer podcasts or reading one too many books on East Asian history. When she actually gets to travel, you can find her attempting to stuff her entire wardrobe into her luggage. Yes, she's a chronic over-packer.