A Well-deserved Trip to Ginzan Onsen and the Totoro Tree

It’s been quite a while since my last update due to my new job (which I love) and moving to the center of Tokyo (which took almost an entire month), but Resurface to Reality is back! I plan on making more frequent updates now that I am fully situated with my new life style (more about that later). Life has been extremely kind to me recently which is why I plan to do more writing!

This weekend I finally found some time to travel up north and see two destinations on my bucket list that I’ve wanted to explore for quite some time: Ginzan Onsen & The Totoro Tree. This was my very first time in Yamagata Prefecture and I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but the Autumn weather was ideal for hiking. Due to the busyness of the Go To Travel Campaign, it was quite hard to book hotels so I opted for a day trip. One day was enough time for me to see everything that I had plan and also get lost on the way, but I recommend 2 – 3 days here if you have enough time.

Due to their strong Ghlibli resemblance, these are the two main places that I sought out:

The Totoro Tree

As a photographer who has traveled to various real-life anime locations including the Satsuki and Mei House and the Totoro Bus Stop, naturally this tree was high priority on my list of destinations. According to Yamagata Japan, the real name of this tree is “Kosugi no Ohsugi” which means “Giant Cedar Tree of Magarigawa”, but to the locals here it is simply referred to as “The Totoro Tree” because it looks like Totoro when viewed from a distance. At first I thought that perhaps someone had cut the hedges of the tree to look like Totoro, but upon my arrival I realized that it is far too large and remotely located for someone to do that. This tree naturally looks like Totoro and that’s why nature is awesome!

There is a viewing platform on the same road where you can see the tree from afar, but I recommend taking the walking trail adjacent to it so you can see it up close (it takes about 5 mins to reach the base of the tree). I brought my Totoro doll for size comparison. Not many people were there, but it was a hit with the children that had come with their families.

Address

〒999-5206 Yamagata, Mogami District, Sakegawa, Magarigawa, Unnamed Road

I rode from Tokyo Station to Shinjo Station which took 3.5 hours and cost 12,000 yen. Then I took a taxi from the station directly to the tree for around 10,000 yen (expensive, but also not the worst I’ve paid). Unfortunately without a car this area is difficult to access, but I was a woman on a mission so the experience was overall worth it to me. After living in Japan for over 5 years, I realize these are the kind of obscure places I most love to explore.

Ginzan Onsen

After getting tons of pictures of the Totoro Tree, I next made my way to a famous hot springs resort that is said to have influenced the Ghibli classic Spirited Away: Ginzan Onsen. This onsen is nestled in the mountains and features a hiking trail that will take you to a gorge, various shrines, and ruins of a silver ore mine. The traditional ryokan that are lined across the river from one another light up at night and present a very picturesque, movie-like scene. This onsen is most popular during the winter season, but I think it looks gorgeous year round! No matter what time of year you choose to go, you will be presented with beautiful scenery and a charming atmosphere.

I started my adventure out by getting some eggplant soba and soba soft cream from the nearby restaurant Izu no Hana. Pretty much all the restaurants in Ginzanso serve only soba and a few other dishes, but I was looking for something specifically vegetarian so I chose here. I did not make the wrong choice because their portion sizes were huge and the ingredients they used were very fresh. The soba soft serve ice cream is a must-try! The saltiness of it really balanced the otherwise sweet flavor.

After snapping some photos of the beautiful river and the free footbath (which I recommend using at night), I decided to make my way to the south of the town and climb the hiking trails. Some of them go up and give you an aerial view of the town, and some of them descend down toward the ruins of the silver mine. It is best to start before 4pm so it doesn’t get dark on your way back.

Within 5 mins of hiking you will stumble across a beautiful gorge:

This reminds me of Takachiho Gorge which I traveled to during the summer, but it was much smaller in scale. It still looked lovely with the vivid Autumn colors, however!

After about 25 mins of walking, I looped around the trail and discovered the cave to the silver mine ruins. This entrance is quite easy to walk passed so be sure to read the guideposts!

The caves only take around 5 mins to explore, but are definitely worth seeing for their cryptic skull-like design on the inside. What a sharp contrast to the beautiful village that I had visited before!

Overall I spent around an hour on this trail admiring the bright red leaves, wandering and getting lost with an old Japanese couple, and exploring the silver mine ruins. It was quite the fun adventure—one that my heart had yearned for quite a long time!

When I arrived back at the main hot springs village, it had already started getting dark so I relaxed by the footbath and did some night photography. What a long but fulfilling day this was!

Address

Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa, Yamagata

This onsen is easily reachable via bus Oishida Station, which is only 19 mins from the nearest station to the Totoro Tree. The buses from Oishida Station run once per hour, cost 720 yen, and take around 40 mins. The last bus stops at 6:41 after the town starts to get quiet, so be sure to check the time table if you’re day tripping like me.

Final Thoughts

Besides Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma, no other hot springs resort comes close to how beautiful Ginzan is. What I liked most is that almost all of the attractions were accessible by foot, and you can take local buses to reach the onsen that were further out. Due to the corona influence, many of the bath houses were closed so I didn’t get to try any besides the free foot bath, but here is a full list for those who are interested.

Though I traveled nearly 8 hours combined with trains and buses, seeing a secluded part of Yamagata’s countryside was worth it because it inspired me to use my GoPro again after months of not using it. She’s back, baby!

As I made my way from Tokyo to Yamagata, various station attendants handed me postcards to commemorate my journey. It felt good to be backpacking again. I will be taking another trip to Kyoto this weekend in celebration of the three day consecutive holiday for the purpose of capturing the red leaves and trying cute cafes. Please look forward to my future (more frequent) updates!

Osu no Mori Cafe Kodama: The Gateway to Ghibli Paradise

After my recent encounter with Totoro in Miyazaki Prefecture, I just can’t seem to escape the Ghibli universe!  But hey, I’m not complaining at all.  Just recently a new Ghibli-themed cafe called Osu no Mori Cafe Kodama (大須の森カフェ コダマ) opened in the bustling Osu Kannon district of Aichi Prefecture.  This place was recommended to me through my Instagram algorithms since I am an aesthetic food enthusiast.  It’s still relatively unknown because it’s tucked away on the 4th floor of a building next to a trading card game store making it easy to pass by.  The first time we tried to come here it was sadly closed for obon holiday.  However, this time we were luckily able to enter and relive the nostalgia of these films once again while feasting on delicious food.

Because we had gone to the Higashiyama Zoo right before, we were just as hungry as these characters when we first walked in…

Immediately we were treated with outstanding service as the waiter gave us complimentary konpeito (star-shaped candy) and fans with Ghibli patterns to borrow so we could cool down from the vicious heat.  We already felt at home here.

Onto the main event: The Food.  Each dish is priced around 800 – 1200 yen and themed drinks are around 600 yen.  Soft drinks and alcohol is also available for a relatively cheap price.  We couldn’t believe how well-prepared everything was here:

“Sorry to eat your hat, Mei-chan…” Me

“I hope your bacon burns.” – Howl’s Moving Castle

“Hold your [drink], commoner. You are in the presence of the king of Laputa.”
– Castle in the Sky

I appreciated all of the careful detail put into these menu items—they are truly one of a kind.  I loved the cheese ribbon on my omurice and how they customized my order to be vegetarian.  My boyfriend loved his super thicc bacon and how much the eggs resembled those from Howl’s Moving Castle.  The drink I ordered was Laputa-themed and had a glowing ice cube that activated when you poured the mixer into the glass.  How cool is that?  Every menu item had some kind of figure or plush doll laying around so that you could associate it with what you were eating.  Though the cafe is small in size, I’ve never seen any place so intricately decorated.  This is an experience like nowhere else around here.

Here are a few more shots of the cafe.  There are framed pictures, books, a little fireplace where Calcifer sits, and motifs everywhere you look.  Additionally, Totoro requests that you sanitize your hands before entering!

In addition to what we ordered, there are also pancakes with a small cat print that resemble Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery service.  There are also a ton of themed drinks based on the films that you can choose from.  I would really like to order a bunch when I come back so I can experience them all!

Is it worth it?

Although I’ve had a number of wonderful dining experiences in Nagoya, this was by far one of the best themed cafes that I have ever been to.  The service was top tier and the portion sizes were extremely generous for the price.  Unlike the official cafe at the Ghibli Museum, Kodama has more creative dishes that resemble actual food from the movies.  The interior design really brought the scenes to life as there were plush dolls and figures from every film surrounding you.  The soundtracks from the movies playing softly overhead also brought back a lot of memories.  I hope to see them expand their menu in the future to add some things from Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Porco Rosso!  Overall it was completely worth the money we spent.  My only real criticism is that they didn’t have many desserts (only pancakes and a cake that resembles a potted plant), but hopefully that will change with time.

Also, if you ever go to Thailand, be sure to check out Bangkok’s Totoro Cafe as well!

Access

〒460-0011 Aichi, Nagoya, Naka Ward, Ōsu, 4 Chome−2−47 赤門ビル4階
Located on the 4th floor of the Akamon building near Kamimaezu Station.

*Though we walked in and were fortunately seated at the bar counter, it is recommended to make reservations via phone in advance.

An Enchanted Trip to The Ghibli Museum (Tokyo)

Yesterday I wrote about my trip to the Satsuki and Mei House in Nagoya, so today I would like to write about my experience at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo.  The Ghibli Museum is located near Inokashira Park where Hayao Miyazaki grew up making it a very special place to visit.  If you have any interest in film or animation you should definitely check this place out.  It’s extremely popular so tickets must be purchased in advance (see below for more information), but outside there is a lot of beautiful nature you can see while you are waiting for your turn to enter.  Once you go inside, you will be hit with a wave of nostalgia and wonder as you navigate through the imaginative worlds that Miyazaki has created.  There is also a theater where you can watch short films that change frequently.  For a full list of exhibits, please see the official museum website.

Within the museum you can find various scrapbooks with details hinting at some of the inspirations for each film.  Paint brushes are also on display to show how the delicate backgrounds were made.  There are also life-sized recreations of the movies such as the robot from Castle in the Sky and children are able to climb inside the giant Catbus plush on one of the floors.  Picture frames of sketches and artwork are almost everywhere.  Photography within the museum is not allowed, but it is okay to take photos outside and around it.  I spotted a miniature onsen sculpture from Spirited Away in a garden and also a Totoro plush peeking out a window.  Almost everywhere you look there is a cute Ghibli reference!  The museum takes roughly 1 hour to fully see, but slightly longer if you wish to see the theater films (depending on how busy it is).

My favorite Ghibli movie is Kiki’s Delivery Service because it was the first one I ever watched, but Spirited Away comes second.  I have visited the real-life locations/inspirations for Spirited Away at Dogo Onsen and Jiufen in Taiwan.  The more I travel around Asia, the closer I hold these films to my heart.  They were a very important part of growing up for me.

After exploring the museum, you can also stop at the Ghibli Cafe and have a quick snack.  The food here is quite simple (likely due to high demand), but I ordered hot chocolate and my friend ordered pudding while we reflected on our trip here.  Our sweets were quite satisfying.  After waiting 3 months to get in, we wanted to savor every moment.

Reserving Tickets

I originally used a Loppi machine at the Lawson convenience store chain to book my tickets 3 months in advance.  If you make a reservation on a weekday, you should have a chance of getting in faster.  If you are overseas, please see Tofugu’s Guide on how to best purchase tickets.

Admission Fee: 1000 yen

Access

1 Chome-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-0013

From Shinjuku Station, take Rapid Chuo Line to Mitaka Station (you can also take the non-express as well).  From Mitaka Station, you can walk to Mitaka Eki Minamiguchi Bus Stop and take a bus directly to the museum.  This takes around 30-40 mins and costs 430 yen.

Traveling to the Real-life House from Totoro (Nagoya)

During my first trip to Nagoya for the World Cosplay Summit, I made sure to book tickets to see the real-life Totoro house because it had been a lifelong dream of mine to visit.  Located in the east part of the city, the Satsuki and Mei House is a perfect replica of the setting in My Neighbor Totoro from my childhood memories.  You can enter the house and explore it to see what living in the 1950s was like in Japan.  It has everything from the palm trees planted outside the veranda to the exact shape and size of all the furniture within the house.  The clothing of the characters can be found inside the closet adding to the realness.  Photography inside is strictly forbidden, but photos from the outside are allowed so it’s fun to create comparisons to the movie.

What I like most about Totoro is much of the story is told from the viewpoint of children but everyone watching can relate to their imagination.  It’s a story that focuses on exploration and not fear or conflict.  Totoro is a mysterious creature but his over-sized and fuzzy design give him a friendly aura.  This house doesn’t have any replicas of Totoro himself, but you can easily imagine that he’s there beside you.

Reserving Tickets

I originally used a Loppi machine at the Lawson convenience store chain to book my tickets 2 months in advance.  If you make a reservation on a weekday, you should have a chance of getting in faster.  If you are overseas, you can try sites like Voyagin to buy tickets (I’ve tried this in the past for tickets I can’t get and it works).

Admission Fee: 510 yen for 30 mins

30 minutes is more than enough time to see everything in the house, and there is a huge park that you can wander through once you’re finished.  As I’ve said before, Nagoya is a seriously underrated city.

Access

Yazako, Nagakute, Aichi 480-1103

From Nagoya Station, take the Higashiyama Line to Fujigaoka Station, then take the Yakusa Line to Ai-Chikyuhaku-Kinen-Koen Station.  This takes around an hour and costs 670 yen.