The Enchanting Worlds of Studio Ghibli Park in Japan

Tucked away in the picturesque Aichi Prefecture of Japan, amidst lush forests and serene landscapes, lies a place where fantasy and reality converge, where the magic of animation breathes life into a world of enchantment - Studio Ghibli Park in Nagakute. As travellers, we often seek destinations that not only immerse us in the beauty of the natural world but also transport us to the realms of imagination. Studio Ghibli Park accomplishes this with unparalleled finesse, offering a haven for those who have been touched by the whimsical and heartwarming stories spun by the legendary Studio Ghibli. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!

©Getty Images/ Tomohiro Ohsumi

This is a place where any Studio Ghilbi fans would want to experience. For me, growing up on Howl’s Moving Castle, Totoro to watching Kiki’s Delivery Service as a comfort movie on repeat, I could only imagine a land where what I saw in the animation come to life. The journey to Studio Ghibli Park is an adventure in itself. Whether you are starting your trip from the bustling streets of Tokyo or the historic city of Kyoto, the anticipation of this extraordinary destination will keep you on the edge of your seat. A scenic train ride through the Japanese countryside will eventually lead you to the gates of this wonderland.

Going to real life Ghibli locations in Tokyo is super fun - especially as a Tokyo resident seeing Ghibli magic sparkle throughout my adoptive city. But as I approached the park's entrance, I noticed the atmosphere shift, as if you are crossing a threshold into a realm of dreams. This is different than a Donguri Republic store. A giant Totoro statue welcomes you, their smiles inviting you into a world where nature, magic, and storytelling blend seamlessly. The anticipation is palpable, and the air is filled with a sense of wonder that seems to hang heavy around every corner. At this moment, you'll know that you've embarked on a journey like no other.

©Flickr/ Lewis Brock

Once inside the theme park that spans about 17.5 acres, I was greeted by a choice of themed areas that are bound to evoke cherished memories from Studio Ghibli's most beloved films. Each area is a lovingly crafted homage to the unique worlds imagined by Hayao Miyazaki and his team: 

My Neighbor Totoro's Forest

Go on an adventure by wandering through the enchanting forest Dondoko-do, that inspired "My Neighbor Totoro." Here, you can meet the iconic Totoro himself and embark on a whimsical journey aboard the Catbus. Make sure you get tickets to go visit the family house in Totoro - this is where you will be able to take your time and explore Satsuki and Mei’s summer cottage with real life replicas of exactly everything you see in the film - from the dad’s messy office to the room where the dust bunnies lives. 

Spirited Away's Bathhouse

Step into the bathhouse from "Spirited Away," where the line between the real world and the spirit world blurs. Encounter enigmatic characters like No-Face and savour the tantalising tastes of this mystical realm. It is definitely worth it to wait in line to get interactive with No Face, or even peeking inside Yubaba’s office (all life-size too!). 

The Hill Of Youth

This is a super cool area that combines various signature Ghibli film pieces into one walkable setting in nature. There’s this steampunk 19-th century sci-fi elevator tower that is inspired by “Castle in the Sky”, while the world Emporium building is an antique repair and resale shop that is an exact replica of the shop that Shizuku Tsukishima visits in “Whisper of the Heart”. If you are a fan of “The Cat Returns” like me, then definitely do not miss out on the real-life Cat Bureau, built to life where you can peek in to see Baron.

Princess Mononoke's Village 

Immerse yourself in the epic saga of "Princess Mononoke" within a village nestled in the heart of nature. Engage with the creatures of the forest and ponder the delicate balance of the natural world as you interact in the hands-on learning centre, and try to make traditional mochi here! 

Ghibli's Grand Warehouse

When you are in the Ghibli's Grand Warehouse, you will feel like you are a character yourself, as the buildings are playfully constructed in the animation style like a village within an indoor village. Everything is in bright colours, with the first floor connected by colourful Gaudi-like mosaic tile stairwell. I had a huge love for recgonizing the shopping street modeled after the one in Spirited Away.  

©Flickr/ Bong Grit

Beyond the captivating landscapes and themed areas, Studio Ghibli Park offers a diverse array of attractions and experiences designed to delight visitors of all ages. Whether you're soaring through the skies on the thrilling Castle in the Sky ride or leisurely strolling through enchanting gardens, every moment is an opportunity to connect with the magic of Ghibli. You can also indulge your taste buds in Studio Ghibli-themed dining experiences. From traditional Japanese tea houses inspired by "Spirited Away" to themed restaurants that transport you into the heart of your favourite Ghibli film, the culinary offerings here are a feast for both the eyes and the palate.

Studio Ghibli movies are known for their captivating storytelling, stunning animation, and rich thematic depth - which you will see interwoven throughout the magic of Studio Ghibli Park. While the specific themes can vary from one film to another, there are several recurring themes that run through many Ghibli movies. Since the park is mostly outdoors, this already intersects with how many Ghibli films emphasize the importance of the natural world and the interconnectedness of all living beings. Films like "Princess Mononoke" and "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" explore the impact of human actions on the environment and the consequences of environmental destruction, which is why Hayao Miyazaki, the director of Studio Ghibli, wanted to emphasize that this place is more of a nature park than an amusement park like Disneyland.

©ghibli-park.jp

Perhaps why we connect to these films so much no matter what our age is, is how Studio Ghibli often tells coming-of-age stories, where young protagonists navigate the challenges of growing up, discovering their identity, and finding their place in the world. "Spirited Away" and "Kiki’s Delivery Service” are prime examples of this theme. Flight is another recurring motif in Ghibli films, symbolising freedom and escapism. Characters often take to the skies, whether on broomsticks, in airships, or riding on the back of a friendly creature, as seen in "Howl’s Moving Castle" and "Castle in the Sky." 

No matter where you wonder through the park, since Ghibli is renowned for its imaginative and fantastical worlds, magic is an integral part of the narrative - and you will see how that comes to play with the different sets here. Ghibli films often feature original and thought-provoking narratives that go beyond traditional Western animated fare - including pacifism and anti-war. They tackle complex themes in ways that resonate with both children and adults. Much like the film itself, this park is for all ages too. 

©ghibli-park.jp

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