A visit to Taiwan’s Jiufen – the real-world inspiration for Ghibli’s Spirited Away
Few animation studios have been as consistent as Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. Founded in 1985, its animated fantasies are made with just the right blend of humour, melancholy and surrealism to make them appeal to audiences of all ages.
The official Ghibli Museum is actually only 25 minutes from my house in Tokyo, but I still haven’t been. Ironically it took me to fly 1,500 miles to Taiwan to get my first proper Ghibli experience…
From one Asian island nation to another
The first Ghibli film to earn an Academy Award, Spirited Away, remains one of the Studio’s most acclaimed and lucrative releases to date. Its Alice in Wonderland-style adventure and enchanting characters are textbook Miyazaki. Many people don’t know, however, that the historic mountain region of Jiufen, situated just 30 kilometres from Taiwan’s capital city, is where he drew much of his inspiration for the film.
Lined with food stalls, the streets of the mysterious town Chihiro and her family stumble upon at the beginning of the film are based on Jiufen’s own downtown areas. With its red paper lanterns swaying in the wind and long, winding alleys, walking around Jiufen is an odd experience. It’s a place so perfectly quaint that at times it almost doesn’t feel real.
Taiwan, at one time annexed by Japan, is a unique island whose culture has its roots in many countries. Even today, many of the the older generation still speak Japanese, while the buildings are reminiscent of its Asian neighbour. 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.
Jiufen is a mountain area in the Ruifang District of New Taipei City near Keelung, Taiwan.
From Taipei take the Jiufen bus no. 1062 from the Adventist Hospital bus stop on Bade Road, east of the intersection with Fuxing Road. Alternatively, take the same bus from Songshan station or Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station Exit #1. Be sure to sit on the left to get the best views as you climb the mountain.
Taxis, often negotiable, run at about NT$1000 (£20) from downtown Taipei.