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Studio Ghibli Landscape: Five Real-Life Locations!

By James Lau
April 13, 2023
Exterior of Donguri village, a gift shop that is part of the Studio Ghibli landscape. It features Totoro, this time in red.

It’s no secret that Japan is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and picturesque locations. Many Studio Ghibli films take inspiration from these locations and feature them in their movies. From deserted theme parks to faraway islands, let’s look at some magical places that inspired the Studio Ghibli Landscape.

Yakushima Island (Princess Mononoke)

Yakushima Island is a small island located off the southern coast of Japan in Kagoshima, and it is known for its dense, ancient forests and stunning natural beauty. The island’s forests are said to have inspired the mystical and enchanted forests depicted in Princess Mononoke.

Mossy Yakushima Forest, which inspired the Studio Ghibli landscape for its movies.
Yakushima Forest in Kagoshima inspired “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Princess Mononoke”. Image via Shutterstock

In Princess Mononoke, the forests of Yakushima serve as the home of forest spirits and creatures. Director Hayao Miyazaki used the island’s forests to model the film’s setting. The film’s iconic scenes of the giant camphor tree and the cat bus also borrowed from real locations on the island.

Princess Mononoke riding on a mystical creature in a mossy forest.
Yakushima Forest also inspired the setting of “Princess Mononoke”. Image via The Film Stage

The forests of Yakushima Island are so unique and ancient that they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island is home to some of the oldest trees in Japan, including ancient cedar trees estimated to be over 1,000 years old. The forests also have various wildlife, including deer, monkeys, and wild boars.

Visitors to Yakushima Island can explore the island’s hiking trails and see some of the trees and locations that are said to have inspired the famous forest scenes in Ghibli films. The island is a popular destination for nature lovers and fans of the Studio Ghibli landscape, and its unique and otherworldly forests continue to inspire visitors and filmmakers alike.

Ginzan Onsen (Spirited Away)

Ginzan Onsen is a historical hot spring town located in Yamagata Prefecture. It is known for its old-fashioned architecture, winding streets, and picturesque location overlooking the Ginzan River. The town served as inspiration for the setting of the Academy Award-winning film Spirited Away.

In Spirited Away, the bathhouse where the main character Chihiro works resembles the town’s real-life historic bathhouses, which have been operating for centuries. Hayao Miyazaki visited Ginzan Onsen and marveled at the town’s unique atmosphere and architecture.

Ginzan Onsen at night, near a water bridge. It is an elaborate hot spring resort. It is a part of the Studio Ghibli landscape.
Ginzan Onsen is one of Studio Ghibli’s most famous inspirations. Image via Shutterstock

He used these elements to create the film’s iconic setting, which has become one of the most beloved and memorable locations in the history of the Studio Ghibli landscape.

Visitors to Ginzan Onsen can explore the town’s historic buildings, including its bathhouses and inns, and see some locations that inspired the film’s iconic scenes.

The town has preserved its old-fashioned charm, with many buildings still using traditional architecture and techniques. Visitors can also enjoy the town’s hot springs, a popular destination for centuries and said to have healing properties.

Chihiro happily running from the onsen in "Spirited Away".
“Spirited Away” features an elaborate onsen based on real life. Image via Snow Monkey Resorts

Ginzan Onsen’s connection to Spirited Away has made it a popular destination for Studio Ghibli fans and tourists, who come to experience the town’s unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. The town’s enduring popularity is a testament to the power of Miyazaki’s imagination and the lasting impact of his films on Japanese culture and beyond.

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Nara Dreamland (Spirited Away)

Nara Dreamland is an abandoned amusement park in Nara designed to be a copy of Disneyland. It operated from 1961 to 2006. It is now famous for urban explorers and photographers due to its abandoned attractions and eerie atmosphere.

An abandoned area of Nara Dreamland with Old West style houses. This scenario is a part of the Studio Ghibli landscape.
Nara Dreamland is a legendary abandoned amusement park. Image via Shutterstock

In the film Spirited Away, there is a scene where the main character, Chihiro, and her parents stumble upon what appears to be an abandoned amusement park. The park has many ghostly figures and decaying rides, and it serves as the entrance to the spirit world where the rest of the film takes place.

The scene specifically references Nara Dreamland and its eerie, abandoned atmosphere. Its abandoned roller coasters and other attractions directly reference the decaying rides and structures Chihiro encounters in the film.

Nara Dreamland’s influence on Spirited Away became a popular destination for film fans and urban explorers! Many of them came to see the real-life inspiration for one of Studio Ghibli’s most iconic scenes.

Chihiro from "Spirited Away" in an abandoned town.
Chihiro also finds herself in an abandoned town, similar to Nara Dreamland. Image via Amuse

Though Nara Dreamland was demolished in 2016, its legacy continues to capture the imaginations of filmmakers and artists worldwide. Its connection to Spirited Away exemplifies the park’s enduring influence. Moreover, the power of abandoned places to inspire creativity and imagination.

Tomonoura (Ponyo)

Tomonoura is a small port town located in Hiroshima Prefecture. The town boasts historic architecture, a picturesque harbor, and scenic views of the Seto Inland Sea. It is, by and large, a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from around the world who explore its many shops, restaurants, and attractions!

Daytime shot of Tomonoura, Hiroshima, a seaside town that is part of the Studio Ghibli landscape.
Tomonoura, Hiroshima inspired the magical seaside setting of “Ponyo:” Image via Shutterstock

This town inspired the setting of Ponyo. In the film, the main character, Ponyo, is a goldfish who befriends a young boy named Sosuke. The film’s setting is a fictionalized version of the town, with many of its locations inspired by real places in Tomonoura and the surrounding area.

Generally, its picturesque harbor, historic buildings, and scenic views of the Seto Inland Sea inspired the film’s setting. Hayao Miyazaki marveled at Tomonoura’s natural beauty and traditional architecture. As a result, he used these elements to create the film’s iconic setting, which has become one of the most memorable and beloved locations in Studio Ghibli’s history!

Tomonoura offers visitors the chance to witness the real-life inspiration for Ponyo‘s setting. But that’s not all. The town also has numerous shops, restaurants, and attractions that attract tourists and locals alike. 

A short, red-headed girl named Ponyo happily sitting on a small boat in a flooded town with a bright yellow house in the background.
“Ponyo” is one of Studio Ghibli’s most critically acclaimed films. Image via Fanpop

Overall, Tomonoura’s historic architecture and stunning views leave a lasting impression on its visitors. Its connection to Ponyo is just one example of the town’s enduring influence on popular culture and Studio Ghibli films!

Visby, Sweden (Kiki’s Delivery Service)

Although not located in Japan, Visby is a pilgrimage site for Kiki’s Delivery Service fans. It’s a small, picturesque town located on the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. It is also one of the real-life locations that inspired the movie’s setting.

Seaside Visby, Sweden in the daytime, with red brick medieval buildings, making it part of the Studio Ghibli landscape.
Visby, Sweden, is a coastal city with preserved medieval architecture! Image via Shutterstock

Visby is known for its exceptionally well-preserved medieval city walls and buildings, including churches, warehouses, and merchant homes. It features traditional Scandinavian architecture with red roofs and walls made of limestone and sandstone.

Kiki, a young with in a dark blue dress, short black hair and a red ribbon in her hair, flies on a broomstick over her hometown.
“Kiki’s Delivery Service” revived Studio Ghibli’s legacy in the late 1980s. Image via Cube Cinema

Several European locations inspire the fictional town of Koriko, especially Visby. Hayao Miyazaki also visited European towns to gain inspiration for the movie’s setting and architecture.

Colorful houses in Stockholm, Sweden.
Stockholm, Sweden, also inspired segments of “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. Image via Shutterstock

Visby’s charming streets, colorful buildings, and historical significance make Sweden a popular tourist destination. Visitors can explore the town’s medieval ruins, attend cultural events, and enjoy the island’s natural beauty, including beaches and forests.

Have you been to any of these locations that inspired the Studio Ghibli landscape? Is there any place that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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Author avatar
James Lau

1 Responses

sakura-kero-chan says
April 17, 2023, 3:58 AM

These places sound FUNNN FUNN!


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