Studio Ghibli Theme Park in Japan: Photos and Guide

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The character No-Face from Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away, one of the exhibits at the new Ghibli Park in Japan.  (Shiho Fukada for The Washington Post)
The character No-Face from Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, one of the exhibits at the new Ghibli Park in Japan. (Shiho Fukada for The Washington Post)

NAGAKUTE, Japan — Finally, it’s here: the extraordinarily visual theme park from legendary Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli.

The studio announced plans for the attraction five years ago, and legions of Ghibli fans around the world have been eagerly awaiting its opening. This will happen on November 1, just as Japan welcomes international tourists again.

We got a glimpse of Park Ghibli, located several hours southwest of Tokyo. Here’s what you need to know.

Not your typical theme park

Don’t expect rides or human-sized characters posing for photos. The vision for the 494-acre park is unique to the vision of Hayao Miyazaki, the studio’s 81-year-old co-founder, and is a tribute to his legacy as a groundbreaking animator and creator. (The idea originated in 2017 after Miyazaki made what appeared to be his final retirement announcement, though he is now working again.)

The result is believed to be Japan’s first “hybrid park”, built around an existing public space to minimize damage to the environment. Concerned about sustainability, its creators sourced as many materials locally as possible. The main attraction – Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse – is converted from an indoor swimming pool attached to an indoor ice rink.

As with the Ghibli movies, you can’t help but appreciate the nature around you. It’s designed so you feel like you’re living in a real Ghibli world, rather than visiting a fantasy. The result: sensory overload that is peaceful at the same time.

The park will eventually consist of five areas, three of which will be ready next month. Ghibli’s Great Warehouse is an indoor showcase that recreates sets from 14 Ghibli classics. In Dondoko Forest, visitors will find the home of Satsuki and Mei from “My Neighbor Totoro.” The Hill of Youth features Nishi’s antique shop from “Whisper of the Heart” and the Cat Bureau from “The Cat Returns”.

Next fall will add Mononoke Village, based on “Princess Mononoke.” And Spring 2024 will feature Valley of the Witches, based on “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”

It’s all in the details

The meticulous attention to detail is remarkable. At almost every turn, you’ll be surprised by little gems, especially in Ghibli’s Great Warehouse.

Clusters of soot sprites, or Makkuro kurosuke, hidden in the corners. Individual contracts signed by those whose names were stolen by Yubaba, or Granny, before Chihiro entered the spirit world in “Spirited Away”. A sleeping Totoro tucked away in a corner of the children’s play area. The realistic expressions of the raccoon dogs of “Pom Poko”. Acorns stacked along the footpath in Dondoko Forest. The fully functional gas stove from Nishi’s antique shop. Water droplets the size of your hand when you see the world through Arrietty’s eyes.

Again and again, they leave you wondering: Reallythey even thought of this?

Fans know that the kitchen from the Ghibli movies works almost like a character in its own right.

An exhibit in Ghibli’s Great Warehouse celebrates Ghibli’s signature meals: Kiki’s Fish Pie, Howl’s Moving Castle’s bacon and egg breakfast, ‘Spirited Away’ food stand where parents de Chihiro come out, the spaghetti bolognese of “Porco Rosso” and so many others.

It also takes you inside the painstaking animation process needed to create the dining and kitchen scenes, as well as life-size replicas of some of those scenes. (This is a temporary exhibit, but we hope park organizers will consider making it a permanent installation.)

There’s a distinct aesthetic of simplicity and nostalgia to the park that looks so much like Ghibli. A vintage confectionery sells sweets now hard to find in Tokyo. Old-school “gacha-gacha” vending machines contain capsule toys. A dessert stand offers bottled milk accompanied by a pastry.

That’s fine, given Miyazaki’s aversion to using computers, smartphones, or computer-generated animation.

While you’ll no doubt want to capture it on your phone, take a moment to enjoy life as Miyazaki imagines it.

Ghibli Park is located in Aichi Expo 2005 Memorial Park in Aichi Prefecture. It is accessible by public transport from Tokyo, and a visit is doable as a day trip from the city.

The park, suitable for all ages, will welcome around 5,000 visitors per day. Tickets are sold on its website through a lottery on the 10th of each month for each of the three areas. Prices range from $3.50 to $9 for children and $7 to $17 for adults.

Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to cover a lot of ground. A bus can take you into Dondoko Forest, but the walk there is scenic and relaxing. Bring snacks and water; there is currently only one small cafe, with few vending machines.

Signs, exhibit descriptions, and directions are almost entirely in Japanese, which will be difficult for non-Japanese.

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