Join us for a journey to the countryside to find the forest giant from Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro

When we hear the word “Totoro”, our minds instantly conjure up the image of the friendly forest giant from the 1988 Studio Ghibli animated film My Neighbour Totoro.

However, for people in a small town in Miyazaki Prefecture, on the southern island of Kyushu, Totoro is the place they call home, because in Miyazaki’s Nobeoka City, there’s a town called Totoro, and that’s where we’ll be taking you today.

▼ The town even has its own Family Mart, with “延岡トトロ店” (Nobeoka Totoro branch) written on the sign of the store.

Curious to find out if the town has any connection to the character from the movie, we strolled around the streets and found this map of the area, which revealed that the neighbourhood was divided into six main districts.

▼ Quaint and colourful, but no Ghibli Totoro here.

The map showed the area has its very own station, so we set out to find it, and when we did, we discovered it was much smaller than we imagined. Again, there was no reference to the tubby Totoro from the movie here, but it had the same relaxed, rural charm as a Ghibli movie setting.

As we walked a little closer, we could see that this was an unstaffed station, and the timetable showed that trains ran once or twice an hour from 7:21 in the morning to 19 minutes past midnight, in the direction of Nobeoka…

▼ …and once an hour from 5:39 in the morning to 9:51 p.m. for Miyazaki-bound trains.

What really caught our eye here, though, was the giant sign that read Totoro, in both English and Japanese. It’s not every day you see this word used outside of the world of Ghibli, yet here we were, standing at a station called Totoro. 

Operated by the Kyushu Railway Company, also known as JR Kyushu, Totoro Station is said to service less than 100 passengers a day.

The area does welcome hundreds of tourists during the annual Golden Week holiday period, however, when a popular clamming event is held on its shores. According to locals, Totoro Bay was once crowded with large fishing boats and pleasure boats, with inns lined up to serve as resting places for fishermen, and this history is honoured with a picture of a fisherman on the station sign.

We travelled along to the next stop on the line, Kadogawa, where we saw another seaside image, this time of a fish jumping out of the ocean.

With no Totoro in sight, it was clear that this town made no claims of being connected to Studio Ghibli. However, it could be argued that Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki may have used the town’s name as inspiration when naming the rotund animated character.

▼ We did find a character at Kadogawa, though.

▼ Say hello to Kadoppy.

Kadoppy is no Totoro, but it is based on the Japanese Murrelet, a small seabird designated as a natural treasure by the Japanese government.

It was then that we started conjuring up fantasy storylines of Totoro and Kadoppy setting out on adventures together in the surrounding nature-filled countryside. Sure, the town may not have cashed in on its famous name with any Ghibli tie-ups or images of Totoro in the area, but when we thought about it, that type of gimmicky tourist magnet would actually spoil the tranquil idyl of the location.

After all, My Neighbour Totoro was made as an homage to countryside locations like this, and if you let your imagination run wild, like the two sisters from the film, you might just find your own Totoro in Totoro. Chances are, though, he won’t be waiting at the bus stop, but at the train station instead.

Station information
Totoro Station / 土々呂駅
Address: Miyazaki-ken, Nobeoka-shi, Totoro-machi 5

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