street inspiration

Studio Ghibli’s visually stunning animated movie Spirited Away has long been this writer’s personal favourite. Its Alice in Wonderland-style adventure, the enchanting characters, the enormous, bustling bathhouse and of course the piles of mouth-watering food have had me going back to the movie time and time again since its release in 2001.

Little did I know, however, that the mountain region of Jiufen, situated just 30 kilometres from Taiwan’s capital city, is where creator Hayao Miyazaki drew much of his inspiration for the film.

Come with us now as we pair the many sights and scenes from the enchanting animated movie with their real-life counterparts.

Taiwan, at one time annexed by Japan, is a unique island whose culture has its roots in many countries. Even today, the older generation speak both Japanese and Chinese, and Japanese influences remain in some areas’ architecture. It’s little wonder, then, that Miyazaki sought the place out as a source of inspiration for the uncanny, other-worldly, setting for his story to take place in.

Lined with food stalls, the streets of the mysterious town Chihiro and her family stumble upon at the beginning of the film are believed to be based on Jiufen’s own downtown areas. The numerous red paper lanterns and long, winding alleys are though to have been sketched by Miyazaki during a trip to the island while Spirited Away was still in early development stages.

▼ The animated world

sen to chihiro streets

▼ And in real life

street inspiration

The enormous bathhouse, whose furnaces are manned by the spider-like character Kamaji, stands as the centrepiece for the movie, and is perhaps most remembered for its grand stature and ornate decoration. Like many of the buildings in the film, the bathhouse is strictly speaking neither Japanese nor Chinese in its design, but has an unworldly feel to it, at once majestic yet familiar.

▼Chihiro approaches the monstrous building where hundreds of spirit gods come to relax each night

bath house

▼Jiufen’s enormous teahouse

bathhouse inspiration

Miyazaki is believed to have paid a visit to this grand tea house, itself once a location for writers and artists to congregate, and to have spent quite some time sketching it. From the rows of wooden-framed windows to the way the building reaches up into the sky and looms over the town, it’s clear to see where the inspiration for Spirited Away‘s bathhouse comes from.

Meanwhile, as night falls and the town is lit by golden lights backed by the dark sea, we are reminded of the scene in the movie when the grand ferries carrying the bathhouse’s otherworldly guests start to arrive.

sen to chihiro appraoching ships

sen to chihiro boats

The masses of tourists aside, there are dozens of locations around Jiufen’s downtown areas that remind us of the animated classic. The narrow streets and steep stone steps featured in the movie are trod upon by thousands of tourists each year, while ornate decoration and awnings no doubt seem familiar to those who have never visited the place before in their lives. Ghibli fans certainly have a lot to thank this town for…

▼Stone steps as sprinted up and down by Chihiro and Haku in the movie

sen to chihiro lantern lined stairs

▼Could these masks have inspired Miyazaki to create the ghostly “no-face” character?

No-face inspiration

▼These tiny ocarinas also bear more than a passing resemblance to “no face”

no face inspiration

▼”No face” in the movie


We don’t know about you guys, but we think we may have just discovered our next holiday location!

Source / images: NAVER まとめ