Editor’s Note: Sign up for Unlocking the World, CNN Travel’s weekly newsletter. Get news about destinations opening and closing, inspiration for future adventures, plus the latest in aviation, food and drink, where to stay and other travel developments.
Fans of Studio Ghibli have yet another reason to travel to Japan. A new theme park dedicated to the popular animation company’s productions is finally open in Aichi prefecture, less than an hour from Kyoto by train.
Ghibli Park, which opened on November 1, brings some of the most beloved characters and scenes from the studio’s animations to life inside Aichi Earth Expo Memorial Park – the former grounds of Expo 2005.
“In the past three years, we have been in a very difficult situation due to Covid-19, but there was a great joy even in the midst of it… I feel that the opening of this exhibition at this time, when we are firmly facing and overcoming Covid 19, has a heavy meaning,” Koji Hoshino, chairman and president of Studio Ghibli Co., said during an event a few days prior to the park’s official opening.
Since construction began in 2020 (and the news broke a few years before that), small snippets of the park’s design had been shared.
Now that it’s open, fans of the Japanese animation studio’s works can look for soot spirits at Satsuki and Mei’s home from “My Neighbor Totoro” or sit quietly on a train next to No Face of “Spirited Away.”
For those who aren’t familiar with Studio Ghibli’s works, “My Neighbor Totoro” is a 1988 animation about two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who befriend the whimsical creatures around their new countryside home while waiting for their mother to recover from a long-term illness.
“Spirited Away” is an Academy Award-winning animation about a brave girl named Chihiro and her magical adventure to save her parents and friends.
First and foremost a park
According to those involved with the development of Ghibli Park, it’s not your typical theme park.
The park’s website even warns visitors that “there are no big attractions or rides in Ghibli Park.”
Instead, guests are encouraged to “take a stroll, feel the wind, and discover the wonders.”
“While I hope that the park will open soon, I’m also worried about whether people will really come and enjoy it,” director Goro Miyazaki, son of Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, said during a promotional event prior to the park’s opening.
As for the inspiration for the park, the director says it was designed with locals in mind.
“People think of it as a theme park, but I’ve always wanted it to be a park. I think that parks are first and foremost for the local people, so I want them to be loved by the people of Aichi more than anyone else. Even if people can’t come right away, I would be happy if they could take a peek at the entrance and visit the exhibition.”
Five areas including an indoor Ghibli town
Spanning about 17.5 acres, Ghibli Park will eventually have five different areas. Three are currently open to visitors.
Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse is the main park area.
It’s a large indoor “town” filled with streets, exhibits and famous scenes from Studio Ghibli’s films including the Robot Soldier from “Castle in the Sky” and a real-size Catbus from “Totoro.”
A cinema plays shorts that are exclusively available in the new park and at Ghibli Museum in Tokyo.
There are also kid’s playrooms, retro streets, gift shops and two cafes.
The second area now open to visitors is Hill of Youth, where guests can find the antique shop from “Whisper of the Heart,” a romantic musical, and its spinoff film “The Cat Returns.”
It’s also a vantage point offering a panoramic view of the park.
Dondoko Forest, the third region now open, is dedicated to “My Neighbor Totoro.” It features the house from the animation and a Totoro-themed playground.
The two areas yet to open are Mononoke Village, referencing “Princess Mononoke” and her adventures among large forest animal gods, and Valley of Witches, which will include some parts from “Howl’s Moving Castle,” about a young milliner who accidentally gets caught up in a war, and “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” about an earnest and hardworking young witch. (An artist rendering shows a teacup ride decorated with Kiki’s cat Jiji.)
According to Ghibli Park officials, both Mononoke Village and the Valley of Witches will open in 2023.
How to visit the Ghibli Park
Ghibli Park is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays (except for major school holidays) and from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on public holidays and weekends. It is closed on Tuesdays (unless Tuesday is a holiday).
There is no general admission ticket for the park. Instead, tickets must be booked in advance for each individual area, with costs ranging from JPY1,000, or $6.70 (for Hill of Youth and Dondoko Forest) to JPY2,500, or $16.90 (for Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse on weekends and holidays).
Bookings cannot yet be made through the park’s official website. For now, visitors need to reserve tickets and select entry times for the different areas on this ticket booking website (in Japanese only).
The Aichi Earth Expo Memorial Park is located east of Nagoya City, which is less than two hours from Tokyo or about 50 minutes from Osaka and Kyoto by train.
CNN’s David G. Allan and Kathleen Benoza also contributed to the story.