Anime Pilgrimage: Jiufen (Spirited Away)

 


spirited-away-disneyscreencaps.com-1356Anime pilgrimages entail visiting locations that were used as references for certain scenes in anime. For example, Durarara!! proudly states that it is set in Ikebukuro, so you will see many landmarks throughout the series of this entire area. Just setting foot in Ikebukuro is entering the world of Durarara!! – no effort required. In the case of Kimi no Na Wa, the stairs shown in one of the more climactic scenes is the most popular pilgrimage site for the movie, which requires a little more effort to find this one particular spot. I found a few of the former, broad locations while I was wandering around Japan, which was quite easy since I just had to stroll around places like Ikebukuro, Shibuya (the crossing is in like every anime), and Enoshima.

In this post, I go out of my way to take a 1.5 hour train plus bus ride to a small town called Jiufen in Taiwan. This is the place that Hayao Miyazaki based Spirited Away on.

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Jiufen and the surrounding area was once known for mining, or so the brochures with smiling miners tell me. However, once you run out of stuff to mine, you have to find something else to base your economy on. The area seems to have found that tourism does the trick, with Jiufen luring in people with good food and atmosphere. Nearby villages such as Houtong have literally transformed into outdoor cat cafes to amuse tourists as well. It’s a pretty clever way to revitalize a town.

I visited Jiufen around the evening, and it really does give an otherworldly vibe. When the bus first dropped us off, it looked like a random street in the middle of nowhere on some mountain. We followed the rest of the tourists from the bus and came across the smallest alley, lined with red paper lanterns. It seemed sketchy as hell, but everyone was going there so we figured it must be the right place. The second we stepped foot into that alley, the whole atmosphere changed.

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Our view from a restaurant that was apparently the basis for a movie called A City of Sadness. Directors really like basing movies off of Jiufen, huh?

The seemingly never-ending alley was crammed with food stalls on each side, each of them selling a different specialty. Food vendors beckon you to try samples of their goods under the dim glow of red paper lanterns. It’s impossible not to be enchanted at the array of tasty food on display, and one quickly becomes overwhelmed. It’s no wonder Chihiro’s parents turned into pigs eating at these stalls. I probably would have too.

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Of course some tourist came here with a No Face mask!

Once you get a little further along, you come across larger restaurants and teahouses for more substantial meals. We stopped for tea at Jiufen Tea House – an 100 year old teahouse. The teapot reminded me a little bit of a very certain snippet of the movie with Kamaji drinking straight from an old teapot.

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The wait to get seated here felt like 100 years…

While nothing is exactly the same as in Spirited Away, you really get similar vibes. The red lanterns, the narrows streets with lots of steps, the food stalls, and the way everything seems lost in an earlier era of time. You can feel the inspiration. The fact that Jiufen is so far away from the main city makes it seem so much more special. You trek out there for a day and then come back home and wonder if it really was all just a dream.

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