The real-world Spirited Away — Jiufen, Taiwan ♥

Let’s step back in time.

It’s 2009. I’m 19 years old, I’m a 3rd grade high school student. I share an apartment with three university students, I have my own tiny room with a huge balcony. Sometimes at night I just sit on the windowsill and think. I think about my future, my final exams, my studies. I know I will study about Japan, that seems natural to me. How amazing would it be if I could go there one day! That’d be so awesome! I wish I could see all the colourful people in Harajuku, eat sushi everyday, see Mt. Fuji! Will I ever get a chance to go there…? I want to experience the culture, the history. I watched Zatoichi recently, a humorous take on samurai culture in the Edo era. I’m lucky to live close to a DVD store — they have real gems there, I even found Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away! I’ve never watched any Ghibli movies, but I’ve heard that Spirited Away got an Academy Award for the Best Animated Movie. Sounds interesting! But which one should I watch first….

Spirited Away stole my heart. A story of a friendship in a magical world of mysterious gods and creatures. Breath-takingly beautiful animation by Hayao Miyazaki accompanied by Joe Hisaishi’s ephemeral piano. Perfection. It was the very first movie by Ghibli Studio I watched.

5 years later I was there. I was in the magical world Chihiro got lost in.

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Jiufen 九份

 Jiufen is located about 30 minutes drive from Taipei. The bus ride itself was an adventure. Everything was so different from Japan… Rows of buildings in different shapes, with mismatched outbuildings. They all seemed so fragile, they were not perfect or shiny like buildings in Japan, but that’s exactly what added that unique charm to them.

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I may have mentioned before that I was actually a proper tourist and joined a tour this time. Our gaido-san gave us these professional maps that were supposed to help us find our way around Jiufen. I didn’t use it to be honest, but it has some interesting spots marked on it, so feel free to use it if you ever find yourself traveling to Taiwan without any guide book, and the good ole Google brings you to my blog.

 ⇓

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Jiufen welcomes you with thousands of round red paper lanterns, flowers, and buildings that seem to whisper stories of the past.

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Steep stairs, lots of people and unforgettable views.

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  This is how I was greeted when I finally got to the top. Can you imagine a more peaceful view?

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 Climbing 198 steep stairs might not be something you do everyday, but trust me, what you’ll see on the top of the hill will be the best reward you could possibly wish for. If it was necessary, I’d climb twice as many steps. Just look at that elaborate temple. The rich details! The colours! I remember just standing there thinking “It can’t be real”.

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Take a close look at the dragon. Doesn’t it remind you of someone? If you’ve seen Spirited Away (and I highly recommend you do, if you haven’t yet) you’ll remember the heroic Haku. The resemblance can’t be a coincidence!

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Masks, masks, masks! There was a museum full of creepy-cool masks and I saw a few interesting characters there! A strawberry face, an ashtray face, a face with dice stuck all over it. Masks with long tongues, staring down with their bulging eyes. I trust Miyazaki’s genius and I do think he came up with all the ideas by himself, but take a look at the photos… Do you think he might have been inspired by the masks, while creating Spirited Away gods and spirits? 

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Countless narrow streets with food, cute souvenirs, all kinds of accessories and handmade things. It’s a highly popular tourist place so naturally you’ll find some rather tacky stuff like mugs and plastic figurines, you can’t avoid that. But after a  short while you’ll understand why this place was such a big inspiration for Miyazaki.

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As twilight falls, ubiquitous red paper lantern light up, the moon peeks through roofs of shabby stalls and it really feels like mysterious gods and unknown creatures are just around the corner…

….or maybe right behind you?

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Such places like Jiufen have to have some bits of traditional Taiwanese culture too. You’ll see plenty of Taiwanese ink wash calligraphy artists here and for as little as 300 NT you can get your own unique piece of traditional art! My time in Jiufen was very limited and to my regret I left Taiwan without this beautiful customized souvenir. 

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Can you recognize this place? Do you remember the scene where Chihiro’s parents pig out on all that food stall goodness… And they pig out so hard, they actually turn into huge omnivorous porkers? Yes, this is the place. One of my friends commented on one of the pics I shared and I think she hit the nail on the head, so let me just quote her: “If I only got a chance to get to those food stalls, I’d be soon hopping around in a pig’s form too”. Well, my thoughts exactly.

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When the night comes, countless paper lanterns will light up your way and trust me, it will be one of the most fantastic views you’ll ever see.

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Do you have a feeling that you know this place? Yes, this is the most famous spot of Jiufen, mainly due to Miyazaki’s masterpiece. Amei Teahouse is the bath house where Chihiro had to deal with the gluttonous No-Face and had all sorts of magical adventures. I had a great opportunity to have a real Taiwanese feast No-Face would definitely indulge himself (←?) with. Braised eggplant in garlic sauce, stewed Chinese cabbage, seaweed soup, chicken melting in your mouth, sweet potatoes, Taiwanese tea…

Read more about Amei Teahouse →here ←

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 Taiwan is a fantastic place to visit. I loved every second of it and can’t wait to write more and show you more. I fell in love with Taipei at first sight and I’m sure that Taiwan has so much more to offer, but this time I didn’t get a chance to explore that much. Someday I’ll be back, my heart is promising me that. I’ll be back for the amazing views, the delicious food, the atmosphere, the people…

 … and the absolutely brilliant, otherworldly Jiufen.

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Thank you for reading ♥

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You can also follow me on Instagram, Facebook (← I will soon hold a giveaway!) and YouTube — though I don’t have anything there yet, there will be some fun videos coming in the near future so stay tuned!

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7 thoughts on “The real-world Spirited Away — Jiufen, Taiwan ♥

  1. Spirited Away was also my first Ghibli movie – it holds a very, very special place in my heart. Looking at your pictures, I can see how Jiufen influenced Miyazaki! I would love to visit there myself one day, too (:

  2. I used to adore Spirited Away, my parents recorded it from the TV onto a video all those years ago because I loved it so much.

    Jiufen looks beautiful. I’m glad you had such a nice time and ate amazing food! The views look so breathtaking too. I bet it was packed full of people though as it’s so popular 😛

  3. Dang it, can’t believe I missed this magical spot when I was in Taiwan! Guess I have to return for another trip.

    Looks like you had a great travel! I totally agree that it’s an amazing place to visit. It’s like China but less stressful, less hectic, definitely worth a visit.

  4. Pingback: Stepping into the world of Ghibli in Seoul ♥ | living the tokyo dream

  5. Pingback: The famous teahouses of Jiufen at sunset - Synapticism

  6. Isn’t it incredible, but now you’ve become part of the story! And so I (and others) would trace your footsteps to find Jiufen and thus experience Spirited Away.

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