Hobby Tourism

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When I was in Taiwan as an exchange student we took an off-day to visit Jiufen, the town that inspired the town and bathhouse in one of Miyazaki's greatest films: Spirited Away. It's been a really long time since I've seen this film so my memory of it was pretty shaky. Still, I found myself being reminded of the film by going to the real place (Jiufen), which really shows how much inspiration was drawn from here. Miyazaki was even rumored to have visited the Grand Teahouse (we'll get to that in a moment), a place where authors, poets, and artists would come to work… and I can see why. It's a great environment for inspiration.

Before we get into Jiufen and Spirited Away, though, let's look at the history of this little Taiwanese town. It has had an interesting one, much of which is actually Japanese related, and will set the table for the comparison between the place and the film later in this article.

In 1895, Taiwan became Japan's first colony, so Japan wanted to try to show off to the rest of the world that they could do the whole normally-Western-but-not-this-time imperialism sort of thing. They decided to make Taiwan a "model" colony for all their future colonies, so much effort, and money was put into building up Taiwan's infrastructure, industry, the standard of living, and economy. They also made a big effort to change the culture and get everyone speaking Japanese. In fact, to this day elderly Taiwanese people still speak Japanese fluently, as that's what they grew up speaking. I spent a good amount of time talking to one elderly Taiwanese person (in Japanese) and she was certainly a wealth of "Japanese Era" information… maybe more on that in another post.

Jiufen itself was starting to get popular even a couple of years before Japan appeared. Why? Gold was discovered. If I know anything about gold and the olden days, it's that people like to "rush" for it. The height of Jiufen's gold rush occurred during the Japanese occupation when (I imagine) the Japanese got really into mining for gold. Gold helps to fund war-related things, I imagine, and I hear the British POW labor from Singapore sent to work in the mines was top notch. Quite a bit was built up around here, and Japanese ryokans and bathhouses exist in the town to this day. I seem to remember Spirited Away having one of those…


Story of Juifen

While the story of Jiufen, its gold rush, its rise to tourist popularity has nothing to do with the actual story of Spirited Away, many parts of the film do tear off some huge Jiufen chunks as inspiration for the characters and places that Miyazaki created. Unfortunately, having not seen the film recently, I was relying on some pretty shaky memories, so below are some pictures that I took as well as some pictures others took (these are the ones with a citation). I've broken it up into sections too, to help you to see exactly what parts of Jiufen made it into the film. Hopefully, someday you can visit this place too and be able to say "hey, wait, that was in Spirited Away!"



(Spirited Away Film)

The dragon Haku was an essential part of the film. This much I remembered. While this is true for much of Taiwan and not just Jiufen, there were dragons on top of the temple right when you get off the bus.


This alone is hardly enough to convince anyone that Jiufen was the inspiration for the places in Spirited Away, it's a start. Let's move on to something more connected: FOOOOD :)

(Spirited Away Film)

The spirits in the film ate tons of food (you know that from Fiona's post about the foods of Spirited Away). The girl's parents ate tons of food (and turned into delicious pigs). Food was a huge part of the film and Jiufen had plenty of it. Lining the streets were many stalls, and I'd say more than half of them centered around something you could consume. Certainly one of the main attractions of this place is the things that can be devoured.

(Cön, Oğuz)


Streets, Stairs and Red Lanterns

(Spirited Away Film)

The architecture and street layouts of both Jiufen and Spirited Away are quite unique yet quite similar. Jiufen has the whole Japanese but not Japanese thing going for it, due to the occupation period. Spirited Away has the Japanese but somewhat other-worldly thing going for it due to the other-worldliness of it. Not too far off from each other, I'd say.

(Cön, Oğuz)

Another notable similarity is all the red lanterns. Both Jiufen and Spirited Away are teaming with them. Just the amount you see in both the film and real place is enough to convince me that Miyazaki was here and taking notes. If that's not enough for you, all you have to do is look at the winding roads and long staircases featured in both places.

(Spirited Away Film)



(Spirited Away Film)

The buildings in Spirited Away were incredibly iconic. What stood out the most (because this is where much of the story took place) was the Bath House in which the main character worked. This building was supposedly inspired by the Grand Tea House in Jiufen. While not as magnificent as the anime version, it's difficult to not see the similarity:


(Ben Andrews)

Illustration by Ben Andrews another thing I noticed was the tunnels all throughout Jiufen. It was a mining community for most of its recent history, so it's only natural that there be tunnels. One thing that surprised me were the tunnels that you could go through in Jiufen. They'd lead you to new areas of the town, almost magically. One tunnel we went through (pictured below) took us out to a tea house and a beautiful view. You don't expect that kind of thing when you get into small, scary tunnels. Viet certainly wins this "More Meta Than You" photo contest.


The surprise and magic of coming out of a tunnel and into a newish world (in Jiufen) felt really reminiscent of the beginning of Spirited Away when Chihiro and her parents go through the tunnel and into the town. Luckily, on the other side of our tunnel, all we had was a tea house, run by ordinary people.

(Spirited Away Film)

I believe there were other tunnels in the film as well, though someone will have to remind me since it's been a while. The tunnel up above supposedly has a tunnel in Jiufen that's more similar to it, but I didn't find it in my journey. Anyways, Jiufen had tunnels galore, and it rewarded discovery and exploration, making the place feel more magical. When you go through one, who knows where you'll end up! Boooooooooom :)


Hope you enjoyed this post. It was a fun trip and I highly recommend it. If you have an extra week, go there and absolutely Hit up some night markets while you're at it.


''Spirited Away'' Film

Director&Scenarist: Hayao Miyazaki

Producers: Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma

Production Year: 2001, Japan

Release Date: 18 June 2004

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