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In need of some whimsy? Add these real life Studio Ghibli locations to your bucket list!

Kurokawa Onsen, Japan

Doesn’t escaping to the made up fantasy worlds of Hayao Miyazaki’s imagination sound magical? Utterly awe-striking? Wholly wonderful? Simply sensational? (Don’t give your copywriters coffee, guys). Floating over the clouds with Howl or running through the forests with Princess Mononoke and Totoro, or even catching a ride to a quaint village on the cat-bus. It’s all so exquisitely enchanting!

Well, obviously, the films of Studio Ghibli are all animated, but that’s not to say the absolutely dreamy and picturesque landscapes depicted within can’t have real life counterparts. In fact, some locations were actually inspired by real life. So, if you’re in the mood for some whimsy, then these are the Studio Ghibli locations that you should travel to. 

Howl’s Moving Castle

Starting off with one of the most fantastical movies of Studio Ghibli’s collection, the towns of Howl’s Moving Castle are inspired by the Alsacian town of Colmar, in France! Cake and pastel coloured houses bracketed by wooden beams, an indigo canal running through the streets, and beautiful flowers in the summer and Christmas lights in the winter. It’s like a fairytale, and it serves as the perfect setting for Howl and Sophie’s story.

Another real life counterpart, though not the actual inspiration, could also be the iconic Nyhavn in Copenhagen – that sea-side canal flanked by bright yellow and blue houses and restaurants. Additionally, Howl’s Moving Castle also takes place in some wondrous landscapes like the hills the castle roams, and the flower field Howl takes Sophie to. These water-colour backdrops were inspired by the stunning and dramatic Cornwall in England

Spirited Away

A classic, Spirited Away is the animated film that even non-anime fans love! And for good reason – the colour palette is vibrant, the characters are unique and draw you in, and let’s not even talk about the serene train scene (train travel can actually be like that!). But the bathhouse steals the show, so, it’s a good thing then, that this Studio Ghibli location is real, and you can actually go and visit it!

The bathhouse was inspired by two real life locations: the first being the Dogo Onsen Bath House in Matsuyama, Japan, one of the oldest and most renowned bath houses of the country; and the second is the town of Jiufen in northern Taiwan. The traditional architecture and the grandeur of both these places look exactly like Yubaba’s bathhouse – and even the interior of Dogo Onsen looks the same. Be sure to head there for a relaxing steam.

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Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is steeped in thick forests populated by both scary and adorable creatures. Personally, this is the location I’d most want to run away too, because how fun does riding a massive talking wolf sound? Well, the home of the Night-Walker is inspired by Yakushima Island in Japan, and this is a Studio Ghibli location you do not want to miss!

You may have heard of this place before: it’s very popular for the breathtaking forest that the island hosts. It’s deep and emerald green, with misty rivers, moss covered rocks, and small wooden paths. It would be easy to get lost here, so maybe sticking to the outer beaches is best. Additionally, the thatched-roofed houses of Shirakawa-go, might have inspired the film’s Iron Town.

My Neighbour Totoro

If Princess Mononoke is strong and ferocious in its wilderness, the forests and rice fields of My Neighbour Totoro are calm and sweet. Here we find Satsuki and Mei giggling loudly as they chart a course along the peaceful forests and fields, and bump into the cuddly Totoro. Spending a warm spring day here sounds like absolute bliss.

The setting of the film was inspired by the Sayama Hills, also in Japan, which are green and bright. You could spend hours walking here down the paths in the woods and along the bountiful rice fields, listening to the buzzing of cicadas. The area is maintained by locals and you can really feel the love they hold for it.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Another movie, another quaint town, but this time we’re heading to the north of Europe, all the way to Sweden. Kiki’s Delivery Service is all about a young witch Kiki who leaves home to head out into the world, and finds herself running errands in the port city of Koriko. Unlike previous entries on this list, this film has a distinctive European feel to it, and perhaps it’s due to the terracotta tiled roofs and the cobblestone streets.

The real town that influenced Koriko is Visby, in Sweden, also a port city overlooking the Baltic Sea, and known for its old and preserved outer wall. The town has many churches and hills, and is an ideal holiday destination for anyone needing to relax. It also gets covered in snow in the winter months, making it its own magical snow globe. 

Ponyo

Ponyo, filled with oceans and strange fish and even stranger girls, is probably Miyazaki’s most spellbinding film, and the real life Studio Ghibli location it is inspired by is magical as well. A small port town with traditional Japanese architecture, Sosuke’s home is based on the town of Tomonoura in the Hiroshima Prefecture.

With the ocean on one side and hills and forests on the other, Tonomoura offers the best of what Studio Ghibli does: tranquillity and beautiful landscapes.

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The Castle in the Sky

Next, it’s The Castle in the Sky, which many believe to have been a source of inspiration for another Japanese company: Nintendo’s Zelda franchise, and the most recent Tears of the Kingdom game (Princess Mononoke is also believed to have inspired the developers of the game). This movie is particularly beautiful for the land of Laputa, a floating castle covered in greenery, moss, and delicate nature, and home to robots who were once used for destruction, and now know peace.

Though this one has no exact real life counterpart (floating castles aren’t that common just yet…), one interesting tourist attraction in Sri Lanka might have been an influence. The giant rock, which looms over the country’s capital city, is similar to the rock that makes up Laputa, also covered in all sorts of shrubbery. Some also speculate that a lesser known attraction near Osaka, Japan – the Tomogashima Islands – played a role. In any case, the moss and ivy and lush forestry all around create a gorgeous picture reminiscent of this Studio Ghibli classic.

Porco Rosso

Returning to Europe once more, the last of our real life Studio Ghibli locations come from Porco Rosso and are found along the glittering Adriatic sea. There is no specific location for this one, though avid fans speculate that the towns the eponymous pig pilot visits are inspired by Italian and Croatian coasts.

The small islands and villages, fishing towns, and beaches that dot these blue seas were all incorporated into the movie’s backdrops. Though not confirmed, these specific locations seem to be the most likely sources of inspiration: Puglia, and Amalfi in Italy, as well as Stiniva Cove and Dubrovnik in Croatia.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

So, this is the only entry on the list that doesn’t have a real location, but I suppose that’s a good thing seeing as the world of Nausicaa is overrun by a polluted Toxic Jungle and larger than life insects that protect it. That being said, The Valley of the Wind, where Princess Nausicaa lives, does have a counterpart, but in name only.

The real Valley of the Wind can be found in Australia, in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Much like the world of Nausicaa, this National Park feels like another world with the vivid orange sand and the rock formations that look like they should be on Mars. 

Based on the fictional map of the world found in the manga (which was written by Miyazaki himself), fans have also speculated that it may be based on the Caucasus Mountains, between Europe and Asia.  

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