Wednesday, September 08, 2010

PT2: MORE Hot Springs that inspired Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away"

This particular onsen is located at yet another sleepy onsen town in Japan called Shima Onsen in Gunma Prefecture. 四万温泉 which means, 40,000 hot springs.

Summer may seem like an odd time for dipping in boiling hot water, however, in the hustle and bustle of a concrete jungle, the singing cicadas and deep forest surrounding these towns are quite relaxing and cool. 

The lush green forests are the exact ones you see in any Miyazaki film and so, you can tell right away where he gets his inspiration.

Pulling up to the town, it looks like any other hot springs area. 

The quintessential river running through the town, huge trees surrounding the area, old Japanese buildings that look like you were transported into a pre-war Japan.

Romantic and special, but when you frequent areas like this you often look for the one spot which makes them stand out.

That spot is this bright, red bridge in the middle of the town leading up to this beautiful, decrepit old building.

For those of us who are beyond our 30s, there is a part of your brain that watches movies and will forget what they just watched within the next hour. 

This bridge though, is striking enough to bubble up from the depths of your fuzzy brain and you will remember exactly what you saw in the movie Sen to Chihiro.

(And for those non-believers of course, there is a little sign out front that states this was the model for Spirited Away.)

If you are lucky, you get to go on a weekday and the onsen is almost empty. You'll get the entire bathhouse to yourself to take pictures till your heart is content.

Take a seat by the window with the fish tank built in the wall and wonder how if Miyazaki sat there too , being inspired to use this place for one of his masterpieces.
What will you be inspired to do?

 Located in a gorgeous setting, the ryokan itself is fairly, a no frills sort of joint. 

You can choose from a variety of plans and I recommend the bento set plan.  It's the cheapest plan for an overnight stay and the food is more than enough.
Walking through the old buildings of this ryokan, a sense of self is overwhelming.
The staff makes rare appearances out of no where, adding to the mystery of the place.

Sometimes you come across something haunting, other times something calm and serene. The place is as full of enigmas as the stories it may have inspired.

The town of Shima Onsen gives us a muted picture of a town that becomes as lively as it's red bridge. When it becomes lively though, only the spirits know. Miyazaki's red bridge is there to remind us it isn't as quiet and lonesome as it seems.

Will you wait around till the spirits show up?


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