Have you ever dreamed of stepping out into a magical place that’s out of this world? What if we said that you could? Like Chihiro from Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, you too can experience a whole new world just by stepping into the town that inspired much of the setting in Miyazaki’s famous film, Spirited Away. Let us tell you of this real yet magical place, Jiufen, a town which lies in the Ruifang district of New Taipei City in Taiwan. Yes, folks, we’re not talking about Japan here!
Jiufen, Taiwan Info
|Location||Take the local train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang then take the bus to Jiufen. Taxis are also available.|
|Cost of Admission||The cost of the train is as cheap as $49 NTD and the bus is $15 NTD, but there is no cost of admission to go to Jiufen|
|Hours of Operation||The town is accessible at all times, although one should always exercise common sense at night. Trains and buses may not run at this time and the shops do close. If you plan on visiting teahouses or the temple, you should check out their individual hours of operation, but Taiwanese temples are known for staying open until around 10PM. However, if you’re looking for a magical experience, it’s best to go during the day or evening.|
For those of you who may not know this, New Taipei City is a newer district within the country of Taiwan. Yes, Taiwan. Not Japan. Spirited Away is a movie filled with historic and supernatural references that are Japan’s alone, so why would a town in Taiwan have anything to do with the Spirited Away? Well, after China, under the rule of the Qing dynasty, lost the first Sino-Japanese War, the island of Taiwan was given to Japan in 1895. For 60 years, Taiwan was under Japanese rule. Japan immediately proceeded to expand its empire, filling Taiwan with Japanese customs and even enforcing that the citizens learn the Japanese language!
Although Japan did influence Taiwan to a degree, Taiwan is far from being a small Japan away from Japan. Jiufen is on a mountain and often, most of what you will get to see is fog, unless you are lucky enough to catch Jiufen on a clear day, which will give you the full view of the bay in the distance. Nonetheless, do not let that deter you from visiting the mystical area that is Jiufen. The fog can transform it into a magical place! As the day passes, you will be surprised to discover whole buildings appear out of the dense fog several hundred feet from where you stood before!
In the meantime, it might be difficult to see several feet in front of you. Luckily, you can follow the signposts showing you what might be of interest. Try walking through Old Street in Jiufen, where you can explore the many lantern lined alleyways with endless Taiwanese shops, selling things from old fashioned candy to the famous taro balls. Do you remember the lantern lined streets that Chihiro found herself in? Yes, Old Street did help inspire part of the scenery for Spirited Away!
If you have ever wanted to be as gluttonous as Chihiro’s parents were, trudge through the narrow streets of Old Street, up the hundreds of stairs up the mountain, to Jishan Street where you’ll find the streets lined with eateries serving all the delicious foods that turned Chihiro’s parents into pigs! Maybe you want to eat like No Face? Perhaps your mouth waters thinking about the candy that Boh devoured. Well, everything can be found on the streets of Jiufen, which is a mixture of Taiwanese and Japanese foods that will have you wish you had four stomachs!
If you’re not quite hungry yet, you may want to explore other parts of Jiufen. One thing you may remember from Spirited Away is the obsession with gold in the staff at the bathhouse. This ties in quite well with the history of Jiufen as during 1893 – 1971, a period in which Taiwan was mainly under Japanese rule, Jiufen became the center of a gold rush in Taiwan. While working under the Japanese, the Taiwanese dug many mines in search of the massive amounts of gold within the mountain, which explains much of the prominence of gold in Spirited Away. Also, some of the gold mines are still open today for the public to explore. Once you go through, you easily find yourself mystified about how quickly your world can change, much like Chihiro’s. You go through one end and find yourself in a whole new area entirely!
One of the most iconic buildings in Spirited Away has to be the bathhouse, whose size and prominence is hard to ignore. It is not quite completely Japanese in style, which is evident, yet not entirely Taiwanese either. Like some of Japan’s shrines, the iconic bathhouse is a blend between two cultures. Most of all, the famed bathhouse of Spirited Away draws influence from the many teahouses in Jiufen, specifically Amei Tea House. Amei Teahouse is a 100-year old teahouse located on Shuqi Road. Amei Teahouse has a blend of Japanese and Taiwanese architecture that we can see reflected in the bathhouse of Spirited Away. The most eye catching detail about this rather large teahouse has to be the red lanterns that hang decoratively from the roof. It is truly a sight to see!
Jiufen can be a very busy town because it has grown in popularity amongst tourists for being the inspiration for the anime movie Spirited Away, as well as the location of the hit Taiwanese movie A City of Sadness. Even on a foggy day, the narrow streets of Old Street are quite crowded making it difficult to walk through! It may be best to start the day out early so that you can explore all the possibilities that this mountainous town has to offer, as well as, the various other sights nearby.
Transportation in the area is quite convenient. Taxis and buses are numerous. There is a Gold Fulong bus that will take you to the various sights in Jiufen such as the Golden Waterfall, as pictured above. You can even take the same bus route to go to Fulong Beach, which holds many possibilities for an afternoon of fun! That is, if you have time.
If you are in Taiwan, you should always make an effort to try bubble tea in the country that supposedly invented it! Even in the small town of Jiufen, you can find a few bubble tea stalls. Taiwan is known for its milk tea, but there are many different drink combinations that you may want to try. Not a fan of tapioca pearls? Maybe you can trade that out for pudding or jelly, which are great compliments to many bubble tea drinks!
When you’re on vacation, you may want to buy some souvenirs along the way. Popular souvenirs sold on Old Street are traditional Taiwanese stamps, very similar to the same stamps that the Japanese use. Although the practice of using stamps in Taiwan are outdated, that doesn’t mean you can’t make one to take home with you. The stores will engrave your name in Chinese characters into the stamp. Most of the stamps sold in the shops are made out of wood. If you have the extra funds, you may want to consider going extremely traditional and purchase a stamp made out of jade, a stone very special in Chinese and Taiwanese culture. You can find a lot of traditional Taiwanese culture in the streets of Jiufen alone.
Earlier in this article, it was mentioned that Jiufen is a mystical area that appears out of this realm. On my latest trip to Taiwan, I was asked to visit Jiufen with a friend I had made the night before. Knowing nothing about it, I tagged along on her day trip to Jiufen. At first, I thought that Jiufen was nothing but a mountainside town with only fog as its main attraction. However, through the dense fog, I was able to see the wonder and magic that is Jiufen from the mysterious streets to buildings magically appearing out of nowhere a few hundred meters in front of me. In comparison to the busy streets of Taipei, taking a trip to Jiufen is like stepping into the past. You really do find yourself in a whole new world, a world that can be difficult to describe.
Although many anime fans are quick to want to rush off to cities like Tokyo, it is important to explore other countries and see other places that you may not have known about. Not every anime is set in Tokyo, or even Japan for that matter. Sometimes, an inspiration for an anime can be found in an unlikely location. If you’re looking for a vacation spot but don’t want to deal with the hustle and bustle of Tokyo or cannot afford to visit Japan, you may want to consider dropping by Taiwan. It’s an affordable place to visit, with quite a lot of influence from the Japanese culture. Plus, you might find magic where you least expect it. I know I did.