Are the words “Spirited Away” ringing any bells for you? No? Well, stop whatever you’re doing right now and go stream it. This is a 2001 animation film that took the world by storm. It’s all about fantasy and adventure by the world-famous Hayao Miyazaki.
It’s thanks to this film that Japan’s tourism boomed. It’s just another masterpiece that proves that Studio Ghibli has no limits to their imaginations. Picture enchanted forests and floating castles among other fantasies you can think of.
But the thing is, every artist has their muse. Miyazaki was inspired by a few places in Japan to create Spirited Away. We can’t jump into our TV screens, but we can definitely pop by these inspired places when travelling to Japan.
Let’s take a look at the 3 onsens (温泉) that were muses to the art that is Spirited Away.
1. Dogo Onsen Honkan (Ehime Prefecture)
The first onsen is Dogo Onsen Honkan. This is officially confirmed as the main source of inspiration for the bath house, Aburaya. It’s the only one that’s been recognised as one. You can find this hot springs in Ehime Prefecture, in Matsuyama City.
This onsen is the oldest onsen in Japan. It can be dated back to more than 1,000 years ago! I can’t even imagine the number of people who have taken a dip in here..
This bathhouse’s structure has been the same since it was first built. At the moment, the onsen is under renovation since 2019 for some preservation works. There’s some Western influence amidst the Japanese ones in the architectural design. That’s what makes it different from other onsens. The animation crew sketched Dogo Onsen before creating Aburaya. You can see clearly the similarity between the two buildings from the windy, maze-like interior.
2. Sekizenkan, Shima Onsen (Gunma Prefecture)
The next onsen is the Sekizankan in Gunma Prefecture. This ryokan has a few similarities with the bathhouse in Spirited Away. Can you miss the blaring red bridge in front of the building? Although Chihiro held a breath when crossing the bridge in the movie so others wouldn’t realise she was human, you don’t have to do that here.
This onsen town is called “Forty-thousand Hot Springs”. It’s also known as “the cure for forty-thousand ailments”. The mineralised waters here are believed to aid movement disorders, weight loss and other similar issues.
There are three buildings at this onsen. The first one is the Main Building, a wooden ryokan built in 1691. The second is the Sanso Building that’s built on a hill in 1936 in the Momoyama Era style. To get between these two buildings, you have to go through an underground passage. If you’ve watched the movie, you’d understand this reference.
The third building is the newest, called Kashotei. It’s also built in the woods, but at the highest points of the grounds. If you want a bit of privacy, here’s where you can get it.
3. Kanaguya, Shibu Onsen (Nagano Prefecture)
The third onsen is Rekishi no Yado Kanaguya. Although this is also not confirmed by Studio Ghibli as one of the sources of inspiration, it’s undeniable. This onsen has been around for more than 2 centuries, all the way back to 1758. It’s found high up in the Japanese Alps, in Nagano Prefecture.
This four-story wooden bathhouse is designed with so much detail. An example is a window that has the shape of the ryokan’s family crest. Another is the corridor on the third floor having a water mill gear that’s shaped like Mt. Fuji.
Even with 29 guest rooms, they are all designed differently from one another. Choose between a Japanese-style one or stained glass-decorated one. You can visit here numerous times and have a different experience each time.
It’s safe to say these onsens are worth visiting, regardless of whether you’re a Studio Ghibli fan or not. Watch the film before your Japan trip and you can look out for resemblances when you do visit. Immerse yourself in the culture and history of these Japanese bathhouses!