Arriving at Ghibli Park, located about an hour by train from Nagoya, some 300 km (186 miles) from Tokyo, one is surprised. At the northern entrance gate, perched on a pillar, is the figure of “Catbus” – a cat with a bus-like body that was an emblematic character of Studio Ghibli’s 1988 film “My Neighbor Totoro.”
Ghibli Park is located in a large public space, Moricoro Park, which boasts majestic forested hills. It is located in the city of Nagakute, in Aichi Prefecture, which was the home of the 2005 World Expo.
Partially dormant since then, some existing infrastructure, such as the large building at the park’s entrance, has been repurposed by the Ghibli Park project which spans nearly seven hectares of the nearly 200 hectares that make up Moricoro Park.
The theme park will be divided into five areas: Hill of Youth, Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, Dondoko Forest, Mononoke’s Village and Valley of Witches – all of which are inspired by the studio’s most famous films. Currently, the first three places are open to the public, while the latter two will open next year.
A sustainable approach
The unique approach to the park’s design reflects the Studio Ghibli principles, as nature and ecology play an important role in the films – thus breaking with large theme parks such as Tokyo Disneyland or Universal Studios.
When designing the space, it was ensured that “trees should not be cut or changes to the environment.”
There are no rides or attractions here. The place is meant to be “a hybrid place, between a park and a museum,” said Goro Miyazaki, son of Japanese anime creator Hayao Miyazaki and co-founder of Studio Ghibli. He told the press that the park aimed “to preserve Ghibli’s works for future generations so that they are not forgotten.”
The venue, which cost 34 billion yen (240 million euros; $241 million) to build – half the price of Super Nintendo World, the latest addition to the Universal Studios park in Osaka – invites visitors to immerse themselves in the studio’s films through life-size reconstructions of the most emblematic scenes from the world of Hayao Miyazaki and other Studio Ghibli filmmakers.
The approach attempts to capture a sense of realism of Ghibli’s works which include their hit anime films such as “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988), “Princess Mononoke” (1997) and the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away” (2001).
Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, the main building located in the middle of the park, contains an imaginary neighborhood, mixing architecture inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s films, some of them rich in Japanese culture, others with elements inspired by the creator’s travels abroad.
Life-size replicas recreate key moments of 13 Ghibli classics: visitors are invited to sit, like Chihiro, the protagonist of “Spirited Away”, next to the lonely faceless spirit from the film, or slip into the garden of ” The Secret World of Arrietty.” A few small “streets” away, fans get a glimpse behind the scenes of some films, especially the meal scenes that form an essential part of Ghibli’s magical world.
A full immersion experience
One of the hallmarks of Studio Ghibli films is the attention to finer details. In the park, fans can enjoy a multitude of references to the films. For example, the susuwatari, or “soot sprites” that appear in the movies “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away,” and the Kodama forest spirits featured in “Princess Mononoke” adorn walls and hang from branches.
For the uninitiated, an in-house theater shows the studio’s short films, providing the perfect opportunity to expand your knowledge of the magical Ghibli universe.
In the Dondoko Forest section from “My Neighbor Totoro”, the entire house of Satsuki and Mei, the film’s two main characters, has been painstakingly reconstructed down to the last detail.
In the “Hill of Youth” section, dedicated to the films “The Cat Returns” and “Whisper of the Heart”, a recreated antique shop complete with real antiques, which adds soul to the reconstruction.
Visitors can only access the park by reserving tickets online. The number of visitors is limited to 5,000 people per day. Tickets are already sold out until the end of 2022, and online reservations from abroad are not expected to open until early 2023.
Edited by: Louisa Schaefer and Brenda Haas