My wife and I are huge fans of Studio Ghibli. When the long-awaited Ghibli Park finally opened in Aichi prefecture in November last year, we just had to see it. Here’s my experience visiting Japan’s hottest new theme park.
Table of Contents
- Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse
- Hill of Youth & Dondoko Forest
- What could be improved?
- My Overall Impression
- Bonus: The Forgotten Items
Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse
First, let’s start with the biggest attraction in Ghibli Park: Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse. Accommodated next to an ice skating rink with its high ceiling and huge glass windows, it offers a glimpse into the world of Ghibli animations to its visitors.
The moment you step into the building, you will be greeted with a strong sentiment of nostalgia. And once you step in front of the center stairway, you can’t help but feel your heart palpitating faster — you have arrived in Ghibli’s universe. The view is enchanting and quite inviting.
I personally like how they build the Central Stairs. It contains intricate mosaic tilework reminiscent of Gaudi’s Park Güell, except in this one you will find references to Ghibli movies here and here.
The current main exhibition warehouse lets visitors fulfill their dream with plenty of photo ops of their favorite Ghibli scenes. To do that though, you need to wade through the long and winded waiting line that could take an hour to proceed.
The admission also lets you watch a short movie in a 170-seat lovely Cinema Orion. Admittedly this may be my favorite spot inside the warehouse.
Ultimately, Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse feels a bit too small to hold Studio Ghibli’s grandiose visions. Each character and each location from the movies deserve a bigger space to convey all of their magic, and that is not easily delivered inside the glass cage that is the ‘warehouse’.
That being said, the attention to detail is present and entertaining enough, though to fully immerse yourself in the moment unfortunately you would need to understand a little bit of Japanese.
Hill of Youth & Dondoko Forest
Whereas Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse is rather impersonal, the other two locations strike the right balance between bringing the movie magic to life and practicality.
Hill of Youth perfectly captures the spirit of youth through its fantastic rendering of ‘World Emporium’, the antique shop from Whisper of the Heart. If you ever wanted to visit the shop, this is where it comes true, for every nook and cranny will remind you of the movie. For those that aren’t fans, though, you will feel more like visiting a solemn museum rather than a theme park attraction.
On the other hand, Dondoko Forest will take you on an intimate tour of Totoro’s territory. Separated by trails 20 minutes from Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, Dondoko Forest is a treat for those who enjoy the tranquility. Though the road leading there will tire you a bit (unless you take the shuttle bus), you will be rewarded with an exemplary replica of Satsuki and Mei’s house from My Neighbor Totoro.
I’d recommend taking your time here. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of a theme park is a boon when you’re surrounded by other people. Dondoko Forest lets you get lost in the moment, and since it takes an effort just to get there, visiting this location as the last part of your Ghibli pilgrimage might be prudent.
So, What Could Be Improved?
Problem number one: time. Since the park runs like a normal office from 10 to 5 (9 to 5 on weekends and public holidays), you will find yourself short of time with all the queues, especially for the exhibitions, cafe, and merchandise shop.
I came all the way from Sendai to Nagoya, so I feel I don’t want to waste too much time waiting. Clearly, better time management is needed here, perhaps like a timeslot with a pass. For the time being, sparing two days to fully enjoy the whole park might be a good idea.
Another issue to highlight is the occasional lack of access for small children or people with disabilities. This is by and large true for Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, where the passages are narrow at some points. But I guess that’s the reason why baby strollers are not allowed inside.
The last thing that stands out to me, is that the park seems to have missed maximizing empty spaces. I know that given how cramped it is, it might not be wise to introduce more details, but some places like the front of the Central Stairs and the steel stairway leading to Milk Stand could benefit from further utilization.
My Overall Impression
The fact that Ghibli Park is built on top of an already existing park grounds remains its greatest strength and weakness. Having all the rest areas and spectacles around the park areas mean that people could spend a lot of time within the park and not get bored quickly. In fact, you can spend the whole day at the park and still you won’t see everything the park has to offer.
But at the same time, since the locations of each are quite spread out, especially for Dondoko Forest, I feel like it takes out a bit of the Ghibli magic when you have to walk between areas, leaving a smudge of disjointed atmosphere. However, I’m quite positive that when the new areas (Valley of Witches and Mononoke Village) finally open, the park will finally have stronger connectivity.
This brings the question, is it worth the visit?
If you’re an avid fan like me or my wife, the answer is a resounding yes. For years, the only way to cure the itch of experiencing the charms of Ghibli movies is by visiting the museum at Mitaka. Ghibli Park’s existence takes the charms to yet another new level.
However, if Ghibli is not in your blood, perhaps it’s best to wait until the new areas are complete, or until the park matures a bit. Obviously, there’s always plenty of room for improvement for any new theme park in its first few years of opening.
Bonus: The Forgotten Items
The ‘forgotten items’ is a series of objects placed around the park (usually on a bench) that belongs to Ghibli movies. You don’t need a ticket to see them all, and I personally really like finding these objects since it feels like a treasure hunt for people in the know.
Here’s the full list of the forgotten items, corresponding to the numbered marks in the above map. Take note that as of March 2023, there are 15 items, which may increase once the new areas open.
List of the items (below) and matching photos (far below)
- Pazu’s belongings from ‘Castle in the Sky’
- Kazama’s school bag and cap from ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’
- Shizuku’s hat and book from ‘Whisper of the Heart’
- The big bag of money (during duel) from ‘Porco Rosso’
- Arren’s sword from ‘Tales from Earthsea’
- Moon the cat from ‘Whisper of the Heart’
- The dosoujin (guardian to protect travelers) statue from ‘Spirited Away’
- Tanuki (Japanese racoon dog) statue from ‘Pom Poko’
- Totoro’s parcel from ‘My Neighbor Totoro’
- Mei’s corn and hat from ‘My Neighbor Totoro’
- Kaguya’s bamboo shoot from ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’
- Yamada-kun’s father from ‘My Neighbors the Yamadas’
- Sousuke’s toys from ‘Ponyo’
- Sugar cube and a letter from ‘Arrietty’
- The guiding lantern from ‘Spirited Away’