Hillside teahouses in Jiufen, Taiwan — Photo courtesy of iStock/SeanPavonePhoto
With a filmography that includes such beloved animated classics as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, the imagination and artistry of Studio Ghibli have rarely been rivaled. Many of the studio's most ardent fans have made the trek to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, but that's far from the only way to feel as if you've been transported into one of their extraordinary films.
Studio Ghibli has frequently drawn inspiration from locations throughout the world, many of which are open to the public. Whether you're visiting to capture a glimmer of Studio Ghibli's magic or simply because these places are so stunning in their own right, we think you'll find these ten locations well worth a look.
Paronella Park, North Queensland, Australia | Castle in the Sky
Castle in the Sky, the first film to be produced under the Studio Ghibli banner, revolves around the legend of a floating castle that few believe exists. Its real life inspiration can be found far closer to the ground and is certainly more accessible to visitors.
The kingdom of Laputa is based in part on Paronella Park in North Queensland, Australia. Industrious sugar cane farmer José Paronella had long dreamt of building a castle like the ones in his native Catalonia. Surrounded by thousands of tropical trees and just a stone's throw from the majestic Mena Creek Falls, Paronella Park remains startlingly gorgeous more than seventy years after it first opened to the public.
Totoro bus stop in Saiki, Ōita Prefecture, Japan | My Neighbor Totoro
One of the most iconic images from My Neighbor Totoro is of sisters Satsuki and Mei caught in the rain, standing next to the film's towering, titular cat at a bus stop. Given what a phenomenon My Neighbor Totoro proved to be in Japan, it comes as little surprise that Totoro has made his presence known throughout a number of bus stops throughout the country.
Perhaps the most impressive can be found on the outskirts of Saiki in Ōita Prefecture. Don't expect a Catbus to bound down the street, but there is a painted one nearby that Ghibli fanatics can pretend to ride, along with tiny stone Totoros adorning a fence. Visitors can wait with Totoro, Satsuki and Mei for the next bus, and they don't even have to bring an umbrella if it rains.
Visby, Sweden | Kiki's Delivery Service
Director Hayao Miyazaki first visited Sweden in the early 1970s for a proposed adaptation of Pippi Longstocking. While that project never came to fruition, these memories seem to have lingered in Miyazaki's mind as he dreamed up the port city of Koriko.
Though the director would cite quite a number of cities the world over as inspiring Koriko – Paris, Lisbon, Napoli and San Francisco among them – the imagery we see as a thirteen-year-old witch-in-training soars through the sky bears a striking resemblance to Visby. Indeed, many rolls of film were shot as reference by Studio Ghibli animators in the small island city.
Visby is said to rank among the best preserved medieval cities throughout Scandinavia, and it's among just fifteen World Heritage Sites in Sweden.
Gorgeous Real Life Video Game Locations That'll Ignite Your Travel Fire
Gorgeous Real Life Video Game Locations That'll Ignite Your Travel Fire
The safflower fields of Yamagata Prefecture, Japan | Only Yesterday
Long unavailable in the United States until recently, Only Yesterday follows a young professional who desperately needs a break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. In a burst of nostalgia, Taeko seeks to recapture the joy she'd once felt as a child in the safflower fields of Yamagata.
Only Yesterday ranks among Studio Ghibli's most grounded work, and it follows that visitors can readily experience what Taeko did during her return to the countryside. A great number of safflower tours are available throughout the prefecture, offering tourists the opportunity to harvest these flowers and dye cloth much like what's seen throughout the film.
Stiniva Cove, Vis, Croatia | Porco Rosso
Yes, this World War I dogfighting ace from Italy has been cursed with the head of a pig. At least Porco Rosso has someplace achingly beautiful to return to after squaring off against air pirates. Porco's secret hideout is based on a cove on the Croatian island of Vis.
Its pebble beach, towering limestone walls and crystal clear waters are truly a sight to behold. No trip to Stiniva Cove is complete without exploring the area's other astonishing sights, chief among them the Blue Cave and Green Cave which have previously left USA TODAY 10Best awestruck.
Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan | Princess Mononoke
Lush forests blanket the island of Yakushima, including the gigantic tree known as Jōmon Sugi that's believed to be many thousands of years old. Yakushima inspired the forest that's pivotal to one of Studio Ghibli's most beloved films, and Princess Mononoke's seismic impact on Japanese pop culture is felt even among these ancient trees; a sign that translates to "Princess Mononoke's Forest" can be found in Shiratani Unsui Ravine.
The island, which has the distinction of being Japan's first World Heritage Site, is inviting to tourists who are free to hike throughout the sprawling park. Many of Princess Mononoke's greatest fans delight in bringing Kodama figurines and photographing them against the backdrop of mossy trees and stones.
Jiufen, New Taipei City, Taiwan | Spirited Away
While there isn't a convenient way to travel to a spirit realm as young Chihiro does in Spirited Away, the picturesque mountain village of Jiufen offers the next best thing. The dragons that adorn Shengming Temple bring to mind the shapeshifting Haku. The influence on the film's visuals from Jiufen's streets, storefronts, seemingly endless stairs and innumerable red lanterns is unmistakable.
Studio Ghibli fanatics entranced by the hundreds of plates of food that Chihiro's parents and No-Face shovel into their mouths can come close to replicating that experience, as vendors on Jiufen Old Street serve everything from sweet taro ball soup to peanut ice cream wraps.
Tomonoura, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan | Ponyo
Hayao Miyazaki spent two months in the scenic seaside village of Tomonoura, soaking in the harbor city and drawing all the while. It had such an effect on him that the director opted to draw the sea and waves himself throughout Ponyo whenever possible.
Given that the film is a re-envisioning of The Little Mermaid, it's all too appropriate that a visit to Tomonoura feels as if one has stepped into a real-life fairy tale, given its cobblestone streets, the centuries-old Jōyatō Stone Lighthouse and the breathtaking views from the island's temples.
Seibien Garden, Hirakawa City, Aomori Prefecture, Japan | The Secret World of Arrietty
Studio Ghibli couldn't have been inspired by a more appropriate setting for its adaptation of Mary Norton's The Borrowers than Seibien Garden. This historic site is home to Seibikan, a building that blends together distinctively Japanese architecture on its first floor with heavy Western influences on its top half, complete with a dome roof for its observatory room and a copper spire.
Though there's not an easy way to view the gardens from Arrietty's four-inch-tall perspective, the colorful flora is still a sight to behold in its own right. Its beauty is heightened further by the pond directly in front of Seibikan. Seibien Garden is open to visitors from April through November.
Kamikochi Imperial Hotel, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Japan | The Wind Rises
The Hotel Kusakaru plays a pivotal role in Hayao Miyazaki's historical drama about Japanese aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi. It's at this hotel that Jiro falls in love with ailing Naoko, with his courting symbolized by throwing a masterfully crafted paper airplane towards her balcony that can't quite stick the landing at first.
While the Hotel Kusakaru is an invention of Miyazaki's, it bears a striking resemblance to the Kamikochi Imperial Hotel, which is also located near the Japanese Alps. In keeping with The Wind Rises' chronology, the hotel first opened in 1933, and it remains very much open to guests to this day.